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 Tom Randall

She And Him – A Very She And Him Christmas (Merge, 2011)

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A Very She and Him Christmas

By Tom Randall

I know that, for a good number of you, what follows will be piss in the wind.

That’s because it’s about a genre that is sutured to white American capitalist triumphalism. Renditions of its canon already clog bargain-bins and play incessantly from shopping outlet PA systems. To make matters worse, these versions were recorded by two of the most unctuous, gratingly twee self-conscious throwbacks around. It is only when at your most swollen with the milk of hipster irony will you deign to half-listen between swigs of Sazerac.

Then there are others, who instead gently edge towards the warmth and eventually feel brave enough to breathe it in. Because they know that Christmas has long been colonised, that it’s PR for an institution with a dubious legacy. They know that Christmas gets sadder every year as children grow older and eventually move away, elders fade, and the ensuing quiet of the day sits in stark relief against the frolic of childhood Christmases remembered. And they feel stupid for, and envious of, their childhood selves for assuming that living is forever and that there will always be another Christmas.

This album is for those people. It is an immaculately performed selection of some of the most perfect and peculiar pop songs ever. They’re gilded and sublime and resound with a quiet agony buried within their glittering tropes.

That Collapse Board’s discussion about Lana Del Ray and authenticity in music should happen on the eve of the Christmas season in serendipitous. Christmas culture is the ultimate test. Matthew and Zooey have hitched their wagon to that star, and many will judge them for it.

But if you can accept that, from Handel to Tin Pan Alley to Motown and Nashville to whatever we have now (I imagine some near-omnipotent hit machine that became self aware when millions of lines of unrelated code across the interwebs randomly aligned and were catalysed by Rickrolls and Pedobears), music can be born of commerce and yet can still take its audience seriously, can genuinely stir human emotion, can entertain, then you probably have a place of quiet comfort reserved for Christmas songs. And you’d be hard pressed to find a more beautiful collection of them.

2 Responses to She And Him – A Very She And Him Christmas (Merge, 2011)

  1. darragh December 12, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    I disagree mostly particularly with the comment “immaculately performed selection”. It’s an ‘ok’ album for my two cents with the second part much better than the first. No where near as interesting as the duo’s previous work.

    Most of the time Zooey sounds pretty uninterested (I’ll quote my own review here – “The cover of Brian Wilson’s Christmas Day is particularly gloomy, Deschanel singing as if she’s celebrating Christmas holed up in an US Army compound in Afghanistan”).

    Though, who could blame her? It is christmas after all – the most depressing time of year.

  2. Tom R December 17, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Believe me, my reaction to this record totally took me by surprise. And yeah, it is open to accusations of sterility, but I suppose that’s why it’s such a perfect representation of the season’s sentiment, as you allude to. The “immaculacy” of the thing is its lack of wrinkles, texture, and grit. It suits the tunes perfectly.

    But actually I don’t think that at all – I can hear M. Ward’s guitar vibrating in his hand, and I can hear the weakness of Zooey’s voice. The production is pretty restrained, and the arrangements left fairly bare. Zooey plays a straight bat, but for fuck’s sake, it’s Christmas music. I think it’s difficult to separate the performance from the tune.

    There are still some songs I will never abide – Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree for one. And, as an addendum, I haven’t wanted to listen to album once since I finished the review. Actually, that’s not quite true – I listened to it just then. I actually find it more affecting now, weirdly.

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