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First Listen: She & Him, 'Classics'

She & Him's new album, <em>Classics</em>, comes out Dec. 2.
Autumn De Wilde
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Courtesy of the artist
She & Him's new album, Classics, comes out Dec. 2.

Back in 2011, an album called A Very She & Him Christmas joined the eternal glut of holiday music. As might be expected, it featured a string of agreeably executed staples — "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree," "Silver Bells," et al — played with timeless impeccability by the duo of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward. She & Him's old-school studio-pop sensibility has always been an exercise in lightly comfortable familiarity, after all, and what could be more familiar than Christmas carols, many performed in the style of the era from which they originated?

True to its title (and to the season in which it's released), She & Him's new Classics applies the same approach to pop standards — after all, the likes of "Unchained Melody" are as familiar as any holiday tune. The gee-whiz, gather-'round, live-in-the-studio lightness of it all works in much the same way: This is not music with teeth, nor was it ever intended to be.

Instead, Deschanel and Ward opt for a great big charm offensive, breezing softly along the correct side of the fine line separating "charming" from "cloying." Amazingly, they only cross that line once: in a quaint two-minute take on 1930's "Would You Like To Take A Walk," which requires Deschanel to sing (among other things) words like "sarsaparilla" — a recipe for a toothache if ever there was one.

But everywhere else, She & Him hits precisely the mark for which Deschanel and Ward aim every time. As on the duo's other albums, Ward mostly hovers in the background — his vocals show up only to provide shading in "Stars Fell On Alabama," "Time After Time" and others — though he grabs the lead in "She." That leaves Deschanel to steal a sweetly playful show that's as safe as a cup of warm milk, and every bit as comforting.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Thompson
Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)