She and Him - "Volume Two", Album Review


Vinyl giveaway details at the end of the review.
Volume Two
out March 23rd
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There are some albums that just click, that hit me in the right way at the right time and just feel like a perfect match. She & Him's Volume Two isn't one of them. But after listening to the album repeatedly, I've come around a bit. This album isn't perfect, and it's not the most dynamic record you'll hear this year. But it's a peppy pop package that's worth listening to. Volume Two picks up where Volume One left off – it’s pleasant, Zoey Deschanel is cute as a button even on record, and the album is really well produced. The record would sound as natural soundtracking romantic bike rides as it would consoling you after your most recent breakup - a range of emotion not often found within the span of an hour of music.

Stacked up against its genre twins, Volume Two fares decently well. It’s far better than Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johannson’s disappointing collaboration, although it falls short of both Gainsbourgs’ additions to the male songwriter/female starlet oeuvre. But I’m a little tired of the qualifiers, tired of comparing apples to crabapples. If Zooey Deschanel is going to keep recording as a musician, She & Him should be compared to other musicians, not just other moviestars. And in that light, unfortunately, the album is a little less inspired.

Volume Two leads with its strengths - the theatrical "Thieves" opens the album and sets the mood for sunny schoolyard romp "In the Sun". "Don't Look Back," a wistful Greek tragedy-referencing lesson learned succeeds as well as any track on the album at capturing the '60s radio vibe that the album often strives for. The album's fourth track, NRBQ cover "Ridin' In My Car," best exemplifies the optimal balance between M. Ward's voice and Deschanel's. On that track, all is right with this pairing.

Occasionally - despite the fact that she wrote all of the songs (aside from two covers) on Volume Two -  Deschanel sounds like she is singing words written for her by someone else. Her voice is good, that’s not the issue – it’s just that it’s two-dimensional. It’s flat, often unexciting. In the high register it’s overly cute, in the low register it’s detached, and she is rarely able to find a middle ground. Where other singers (cough cough Bardot) were able to play that into a sultry mysteriousness, Deschanel is less adept.

M. Ward's voice, on the other hand, is naturally charismatic, grainy and complex without sounding forced. He only sings on the album in spots, and each time I find myself wanting more Him and less She. Their voices balance each other nicely, and positioned correctly they can be a potent Yin and Yang. Alas, for the majority of the album his voice is conspicuously absent.

Musically, the songs lilt with a faux country twang, carefully toeing the line between homage and impression. Sometimes the hat tip works, and Deschanel pulls off the proper Southern Belle look without a hitch. In other spots her acting wears through a bit, showing that she perhaps is not everything the album purports her to be. The album does have an endearing charm, though - there's no discounting a pretty face and a winning smile.

If I were forced to describe Volume Two in a word, it would be “cute”. The album is littered with clever turns of phrase, genial musical hooks, and a sort of down home charm that doesn't try to do too much. Cute, however, can be a damning descriptor. It carries along with it some dirty accomplices – silly and superficial. And to me, Ward and Deschanel skirt those two adjectives throughout Volume Two. She & Him avoids being dismissed as a self-centered side project, but barely. Full of ‘60s and ‘70s radio-friendly soft rock sung voiced a modern ingénue, the album has a place in the pantheon of nostalgic summertime records. If Volume Three is more of the same, though, look for some pretty face backlash.

Volume Two - She & Him

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