While “dad rock” is a love-it-or-hate-it classification that applies to breezy and melodic acts like Wilco, it is surprising that no one has really been singled out as “mom rock” in the music world. If that distinction were to fall on someone, it would surely be She & Him. I haven’t seen statistics on this, but nearly every vaguely stylish girl I know between the age of 25 and 40 likes this group, and their 70s and golden oldies inspired tunes have literally gained the approval of my 60-year old mother. So, there is something fitting in the fact that only two albums into their recording career, She & Him have already recorded their first Christmas album. I mean, if moms don’t love Christmas, what do they love?
But A Very She & Him Christmas is less designed to get moms buying albums and more for the purpose of their children having an album that they can play while hanging tinsel that doesn’t offend their mother. Before this offering, there is little in the indie rock universe that is suitable Christmas morning fare; Bright Eyes and Sufjan Stevens have given offerings, which are acceptable at best, but will most likely be distracting to any older people, making them itch for their Johnny Mathis or John Denver. No, She & Him doesn’t have any “weird” singing or “weird” arrangements, as your parents might say. It all seems pretty innocuous.
If anything, A Very She & Him Christmas can feel like a wet blanket at times, like a party that just can’t get off the ground. Three of the opening four tracks are down-tempo, nostalgic, and, well, kind of sad. Only the Brian Wilson-penned “Christmas Day,” which is perfectly arranged with a refrain that pops out of the speakers in full color, provides any spark for the rest of the record to build off its foundation. And as the record progresses, the up-beat numbers come off as unnatural and pressing, like She & Him knew they were supposed to be merry, but forgot how to be. “Sleigh Ride” sees Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward dueting, as if the task of singing together was the most boring of jobs they had ever been asked to do. “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” is anything but “rockin’,” instead sounding like it is being read from a lyric sheet without any sense of personality.
So, instead, we get an album whose strengths are in the ideas of solitude and melancholy. Deschanel’s ukelele-driven “Silver Bells” is personal and introspective, with the focus falling away from the song’s forced rhymes and, rather, actually centering around a real emotion. It’s hard not to picture the singer playing to a frosted window while the snow gently falls in the fading daylight. Sure, it’s kind of sad, but it’s also believable. “The Christmas Song” and “Blue Christmas” travel down similar roads, showcasing Deschanel’s voice and letting Ward slip away to an afterthought, which, unfortunately, works best for him on this record. These spare and minimal numbers work and save the record, serving as focal points rather than changes of pace. That being said, it is hard to argue against this album serving its purpose, and, as part of the proceeds are set to go to charity, any argument about She & Him grabbing for dollars with this holiday offering come up mute. While we can complain all we want about what doesn’t work on A Very She & Him Christmas, there will be a few days a year where we will be very happy to listen to this rather than Mariah Carey.