There are two kinds of people: those who love Christmas music, and those who hate it with a fiery passion that burns deep within their black hearts. She & Him fall into the former category, evidenced by the release of their second Christmas album, Christmas Party (A Very She & Him Christmas came out in 2011.) Full disclosure: I fall into the latter category, having worked in retail for too many holiday seasons in my youth. Luckily, She & Him put enough of their own spin on these 12 Christmas covers by paring down the excess, taking excessive sleigh bells out of the equation and adding unexpected instruments, to make the album not only tolerable but enjoyable. It’s a very laid-back holiday album.
Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward (the She and Him of She & Him) have a distinct voices that are very different from the original singers of these songs (we’re talking Mariah Carey and Alvin & the Chipmunks.) That’s OK though, because Deschanel makes the songs her own. Her voice brings an extra melancholy quality to “Christmas Memories” and even “Christmas Don’t Be Late.” “Run Run Rudolph” sounds darker and sexier when M. Ward’s gravelly voice delivers it. It keeps it very She & Him, folk, and fresh.
A major reason that this album is more tolerable than most Christmas albums is that it eschews the traditional instruments (sleigh bells) and uses some unexpected ones. These instruments aren’t used to excess, though: the songs are pared-down and understated, making them much easier to stomach. “Happy Holiday” has electric organ sounds, there’s electric guitar on many songs, “Must Be Santa” has accordion that gives it a zydeco sound. Another thing setting this album apart is that they included not-so-well-known Christmas songs like “Coldest Night of the Year,” originally by Vashti Bunyon. In keeping it light and fun, there are some different lyrics thrown into a couple of songs, especially “Must Be Santa.” The singers playfully lists off the names of American presidents, and that’s when the light and fun comes to a crashing halt as they list Hillary Clinton and you realize you can never truly escape the 2016 election.
Aside from Jingle Cats, Christmas Party is probably the only Christmas album I would actually put on during a Christmas party. This is a (sleigh)bell-ringing endorsement from me, considering I usually have flashbacks to dealing with angry customers and wearing an apron that said “I’m here to elf” any time I hear the originals of these songs. So, if you love Christmas, or even if you hate it but have to put on something festive, go with Christmas Party. If you have to listen to a Christmas album, at least make it a charming folk one.