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Archive for April, 2010

A large part of the charm that She & Him’s debut Volume One carried, and of the appreciation that it garnered, was due to the novelty of discovering that Zooey Deschanel was a gifted musician in her own right and the plain “newness” of the project.  The songs were undeniably simple in composition, but the revelation was that they were also so warm and familiar in presentation.  It is the natural order of things that this novelty and newness would inherently be worn off by the time that Zooey and M. Ward finally got around to releasing their follow up, appropriately titled Volume Two, and while the songs on their sophomore effort all carry the same level of craftsmanship, some of the effect is certainly lost due to no other reason than the because you’ve heard this (or something similar) before.  It may not be fair, but the lack of fairness doesn’t alter the truth of the situation one bit.  That being said, this collection of easy to listen to and tightly wound, old-souled, pop gems is still amount to one enjoyable package.

It’s pretty accurate to suggest that Volume Two is essentially more of the same for Deschanel and Ward.  The two realized that they had a winning formula with the debut, and chose for better or ill to stick to the plan.  The songs all have a retro feel, and some of them (“Ridin’ In My Car” and “Gonna Get Along Without You Know”) are even tunes that have been around for a while that the pair decided to take out for a spin.  So clearly, the duo did not feel any need to update their sound to match current music trends, and this attitude of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” largely pays off for them.  Both musicians sound equally at home performing those dusted-off tracks as they do on their old-timey original tunes like “Me & You” or “Sing.”

While it’s likely M. Ward that serves as the duo’s glue, Zooey is undeniably the pair’s star.  Her lyrics and voice are what give the project its unique flavor.  As such, most of the songs live and die by her execution of lyrics and vocals, giving Volume Two its ebbs and flows.  On the first single “In The Sun,” you find her picking up right where she left off with a radio-friendly hook coupled with simple and ernest lyrics like “it’s hard to be ignored,” and “my baby, my darling, I’ve been thinking of leaving.”  As evidenced here, Volume Two also keeps on with Deschanel’s tradition of writing music about heartache and troubled relationships with a sunny and cheery sound.  If that sounds a little contradictory, that’s because it is, and this is something that Deschanel seems aware of and is occasionally reflected in her lyrics.  On “I’m Gonna Make It Better,” Zooey sings “I couldn’t stay holding your hand, hours on the sidewalk, staring at the sun, everybody is wasting away,” despite promising that “I’m gonna make it, make it better, I’m gonna get the best, lock it up and swallow the key.”  Like any maddeningly cute woman, she seems more than content to play a character who is a mess of contradictions.

As was probably unavoidable when the pair decided not to really shake things up, some of the songs do feel a bit flat.  “Band New Shoes,” for example, does indeed have a tender simplicity about it, but it ultimately seems to be a bit bland when compared to the richer sound on the rest of the album.  The same could be said for the closing song, “If You Can’t Sleep,” which also tries on a bit of a softer and more measured sound.  One understands what the musicians had set out to do with the songs, without ever really finding them all that compelling.  In addition to these criticisms, the fact that this pair of tracks is what closes-out the album also probably doesn’t help the taste that gets left in your mouth as a listener.

Fortunately, on the albums more inspired moments, it captures much of the same magic that made the initial discovery of the duo striking.  The opening track, “Thieves,” is one of these moments.  The song is a poppy, country-inspired gem that manages to hit all the most endearingly sentimental parts of the well worn breakup song genre.  Much like she had previously been on “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here,” Deschanel is almost too cute to bear when she sings (along with some subtle help from M. Ward); “I know, and you know too, that a love like ours is terrible news / but that won’t stop me crying, no that won’t stop me crying over you.”  Additionally, both of the afore-mentioned cover songs make up some of Volume Two‘s more pleasantly memorable moments.  Each track manages to take what was originally enjoyable about the initial rendition of the song, and transfer that over to the pair’s home-spun brand of folky musical yarns.  “Gonna Get Along Without You Now,” in particular, seems uniquely well suited for every one of Zooey’s considerable feminine wiles.

When music is this free of snootiness and so earnestly laid out, it’s easy to forgive any real lack of originality, and this ultimately proves to be the case on She & Him’s sophomore effort, even if something is lost in repeating the formula.  No, it may not break into anything resembling new musical territory, but Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward both sound so very comfortable with each other and with their collection of songs, that the listener is unavoidably taken in by them.  Volume Two isn’t going to shake up the world, or even the pop music scene for that matter, but a listen will probably serve to help brighten your day.

SCORE: 3.4 out of 5.0

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