SHE & HIM – Christmas Party (Columbia): “Christmas music for hipsters” is too easy a joke to make, so instead I’ll remind you that of the four Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward releases under the She & Him moniker over the last five years, only one of them has contained original material (though it also featured three covers), and Christmas Party is their second holiday compilation. Now, believe it or not, this perennial Grinch has no feelings positive or negative about the Christmas music genre; I’m pretty staunchly anti-nostalgia, so lines like “Singing carols, stringing popcorn / Making footprints in the snow” from “Christmas Memories” do nothing for me.
Cute though their first holiday comp A Very She & Him Christmas was, and however unorthodox given indie’s general aversion to something so blatantly unhip (particularly since there is not a drip of irony in its DNA), it was a thoroughly ho-hum album. Christmas Party brings the goods: the arrangements are more robust and playful, Deschanel’s vocal performance more confident and dedicated, the songs livelier and peppier. Ward and Deschanel’s selection is again wholly secular: jazz-lite arrangements of “Let It Snow” and “The Man with the Bag,” the Hawaiian reworking of the Chipmunks’ “Christmas Don’t Be Late” (or the actually-Hawaiian “Mele Kalikimaka,” a welcome foreign language alternative to the ever-obnoxious “Feliz Navidad”), the Mexican brass and accordion on “Must Be Santa,” the subdued country twang of “Winter Wonderland.” It’s not cheap like every 90s pop star’s obligatory X-mas record with godawful cover art, or unlistenable like croakmaster Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart. It’s simple but not simple-minded, sincere but not sentimental. Which is refreshing.
It’s borderline unfair for me to render judgment on an album I admittedly have no use for outside of playing it at a guest’s request or tossing a few tracks onto a Christmas party (hey-o) playlist that needs filling. But it says something that I’m not opposed to listening this on a wintry December morning with a cup of coffee, or on a cloudy Saturday afternoon with hot cocoa and a good book. But I would not listen to this while rockin’ a whiskey or beer. So are you thirtysomething? Got kids? Looking for some innocuous but consistent Christmas tunes? You’ll eat this shit up. Addendum: Those are not necessarily prerequisites for enjoying Christmas Party. B PLUS (*)