Emmy the Great / Tim Wheeler

This Is Christmas

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Hot on the heels of She & Him, Ash frontman Tim Wheeler and his singer/songwriter girlfriend, Emmy the Great, further add to the rather niche genre of indie pop boy/girl duo yuletide records with their unique collaborative effort, This Is Christmas. Written during a particularly heavy snowstorm that saw them stranded in Sussex following six canceled flights, and completed in New York in the midst of Hurricane Irene, its 11 tracks may have been conceived in rather fraught conditions, but there's little evidence of it here. Inspired by the seasonal Wall of Sound productions of the '60s, the glam rock Christmas number ones of the '70s, and the synth-led festive guilty pleasures of the '80s, the pair's first full-length joint venture (which also includes Bloc Party's Matt Tong on drums) is a resolutely feel-good homage that unashamedly revels in sentimentality, good old-fashioned nostalgia, and the odd knowing wink. Indeed, the fact that the album was originally to be released under the pseudonym Sleigher is indicative of the record's playful nature, whether it's the eerie "Silent Night" intro that opens the gothic alt-pop of "Zombie Christmas," the cheerleader-style chanting on the quick burst of CSS-esque art rock that is "Jesus the Reindeer," or the brilliantly corny "Deck the Halls" guitar solo that closes the sugary-sweet cover of "Marshmallow World." But This Is Christmas is just as magical when it steps into more heartwarming territory. "Sleigh Me," the first song they ever co-wrote together, is a gorgeously melancholic if slightly slushy folk-pop number that unexpectedly recalls the Beautiful South at their most wistful, the Spector-ish "(Don't Call Me) Mrs. Christmas" is a delightfully charming tale that deals with the trials and tribulations of being Santa Claus' other half, while "Christmas Moon" is an authentically vintage slice of '60s doo wop packed with plinky piano chords, ghostly backing vocals, and luscious strings, courtesy of film composer Ilan Eshkeri. Elsewhere, the Beach Boys-influenced garage rock of "Christmas Day (I Wish I Was Surfing)" is a rare concession to Wheeler's more familiar sound, while the acoustic campfire singalong of closer "See You Next Year" is more in keeping with Emmy the Great's stripped-back sound, but on the whole, this is a different entity entirely from both parties' usual fare. A welcome antidote to this year's more conventional cash-ins from Bublé and Bieber, This Is Christmas is a joyous and affectionate affair that already feels like an instant festive classic.

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