SHE & HIm
This Christmas season, She & Him would like to invite you to a party. The start time is precisely the moment you crave holiday nostalgia and gingerbread-fueled merriment. The dress code happens to be whatever you’re wearing, though flexibility is encouraged, as a desire to dance will be likely, if not unavoidable. And you’re invited to bring as many loved ones along as you please. Well, except maybe that one guy – you know the one.
Christmas Party, She & Him’s second Christmas record, is a unique gathering of friends and family, where a mixture of perennial classics, happy accidents, and friendly faces create an atmosphere where the magic of Christmas not only blossoms but is rediscovered.
It was the positive experience they had recording their first Christmas record, A Very She & Him Christmas, in 2011 that brought M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel back for another round of holiday cheer. Much like their first Christmas record, She & Him bring an organic and minimalistic approach to their holiday covers. Highly produced classics get stripped down to their most fundamental elements, a style perfectly evinced on their rendition of “Marshmallow World”, originally covered by Darlene Love on the Phil Spector Christmas album. In this vein, you won’t find any accompanying orchestra or full-piece brass bands on Christmas Party. Instead, She & Him rely on friends and family to lend a simple and authentic holiday vibe to this album, one where the guest list speaks for itself.
For starters, you’ll find Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley playing drums on all the tracks. Close friends and tour buddies, The Chapin Sisters, add their harmonies to back up and lead, as does indie rock darling Jenny Lewis. “She’s a great singer and I’m a big fan,” says Zooey. Also joining the fun are a number of Ward’s friends from Portland and even Zooey’s husband Jacob and their daughter Elsie.
In the years between the two holiday records, She & Him released Vol. 3, an album of original songs, and kept their affection for covers alive with Classics, a compilation of covers of their favorite standards. Throughout these intervening years and albums, Zooey and Ward gradually culled a new collection of holiday songs to re-interpret, tucking them away like a stack of presents growing under a tree.
It’s this diverse choice of tracks that keeps Christmas Party from being a one room, one note get-together. Instead, the colorful song list takes you on a Santa-like journey, traversing the globe and dropping you down into a variety of holiday settings with friends and loved ones. The expedition kicks off with a good old-fashioned dance party where Mariah Carey’s newly minted classic “All I Want For Christmas” is re-imagined and infused with a style reminiscent of the Phil Spector Christmas record. “I’ve always loved this song, and I was like, ‘I’d love to hear it without the digital keyboards. I’d love to hear it recorded in a little more of an old school way,’” says Zooey.
Shortly after, you’re handed a glass of eggnog and welcomed into a group of friends in the jovial sing-a-long “Must Be Santa,” where Jenny Lewis joins Zooey and Ward on lead as Ward’s friends from Portland make up the “gang vocals”. Voices are raised, along with glasses, in this high-energy call-and-repeat that even includes a surprise political reference sneakily hidden into the chorus, awaiting discovery, like a bright ornament hidden deep within a pine tree.
Your travels continue, taking you to the warm sandy beaches of Hawaii, as The Chapin Sisters breezily harmonize with Zooey on the Polynesian favorite “Mele Kalikimaka.” Next it’s off to a party in the sky as you jump back on the sleigh, put on your Ray-Bans, and let Steve Shelley’s drums and M. Ward’s gruffy vocals kick up the cool with Chuck Berry’s mad-dash anthem “Run Run Rudolph.”
Whether it’s an unexpected guest under the mistletoe or a spit take at a drunken uncle’s crazy yarn, every good holiday party has its surprises, and there’s nothing She & Him love more than a happy accident. On Zooey and Jenny Lewis’s Everly Brothers-influenced rendition of “Winter Wonderland,” the track used is not only their very first take singing the song, but also includes a spur of the moment staccato giggle from Zooey. “It was totally spontaneous and we like that stuff,” says Zooey. Another fortuitous surprise occurred during the recording of Irving Berlin’s iconic “Happy Holiday.” “My husband, Jacob, was playing jingle bells with Elsie in his arms when she started making a baby noise which happened to be in tune with the song.” Her daughter’s soft echoes, along with the organ, blend to create a familiar feeling of being at an ice rink with your family.
Christmas Party not only captures an organic world of sometimes unplanned whimsy, but also introduces us to new, esoteric songs and settings. “Coldest Night Of The Year” is a holiday song by folk singer Vashti Bunyan that Zooey discovered on a box set and instantly fell in love with. “Christmas Memories” is another obscure track by Sinatra that is one of Matt and Zooey’s favorites.“When I sing it, I think of Christmas at my grandparents’ house with all my cousins and my family… I hope this can be a record that makes people feel warm and happy and think of family.”
With every Christmas party, there comes a time, whether staring at the flames of the fire, rapt by their flickering, or gazing longingly at the snow as it shakes loose of the night sky, that you have a moment with yourself to reflect on the true meaning of the holidays. On Christmas Party this moment appropriately comes on the final track. “Christmas Don’t Be Late”, a song typically associated with The Chipmunks, is given new life as a quiet lullaby as Zooey plays it solo on ukulele. Ward observes, “She’s bringing the song more soul than it has been brought in the past.”
As Christmas Party comes to a close, the listener can take solace in knowing the door on this gathering is never fully shut. The sing-alongs, the happy accidents, the quiet moments with loved ones – they’re all waiting for you whenever you wish to immerse yourself in the splendor of the season. As Ward himself says, “Music is one of the purest ways into Christmas.”
- Sarah Tapscott