She & Him, Volume Two
While she may not quite be a Cinderella story considering her Hollywood family, Zooey Deschanel has certainly become the bell of the hipster ball. Over the past couple years, the multi-faceted actress has starred in a number of films including the fabulous indie Rom-Com (500) Days of Summer, started a music career by partnering with folk troubadour M. Ward under the moniker She & Him and married indie prince Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie fame. Her cutesy, quirky persona isn’t the only reason she has found such success in both the film/music industry, as Zooey has drawn a great deal of acclaim for both her acting performances and her work with She & Him.
She & Him’s first song collection, Volume One, displayed what a natural pairing Deschanel and Ward make, with several originals and a few classic covers in their own lovely take on 50’s and 60’s pop and country. Together they are able to recreate the essence of this golden era, as Zooey’s innocent countrified croon fits perfectly among M. Ward’s production which borrows from the likes of girl-group mastermind producer Phil Spector and Beach Boy Brian Wilson. Volume Two finds Zooey maturing as not only a singer but more so as a songwriter, with the compositions more complex, making for a rich collection of lovable retro-pop.
Volume Two blazes open with three of She & Him’s best to date. “Thieves”, is the sort of breakup melodrama that would make Roy Orbison proud, especially with the song’s climactic close.” "In The Sun” features a cheerful elementary piano melody, a call and response chorus, and a subtle disco rhythm which makes for a great feel-good single. “Don’t Look Back” has Zooey singing in a more baritone voice than her usual alto in front of Spector-style Wall of Sound.
Volume Two’s covers are less pronounced than Volume One ‘s (which included covers of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles as well as the Beatles), with two lesser-known tunes in NBRQ’s “Riding In My Car” and Skeeter Davis’s “Gonna Get Along Without You Now”. While M. Ward allows his guitar and production to do the talking for much of the album, “Riding In My Car” has M. Ward coming out of the shadows and splitting vocal duties on a laid-back musical cruise. Zooey’s take on “Gonna Get Along Without You Now” is as sweet and playful as a stroll in the park contrary to the song’s biting lyrics.
The most surprisingly impressive element to She & Him is not Zooey’s sugary voice but rather her incredible knack for pop songwriting. While Volume One had fine albeit simple pop lyrics, with its finest moment being “Sweet Darling” which Deschanel co-wrote with fellow actor-turned-musician Jason Schwartzmann, songs like “Lingering Still”, and “Home” showcase her ability to write incredibly classic pop lyrics. “Lingering Still” has Zooey trying to protect her heart but feeling the pain of love lost singing “And the world’s like a science, and I’m like a secret, and I saw you lingering still.” “Home” may very well be She & Him’s finest arranged and written song to date, as it feels like three songs in one, as each section transitions peculiarly into the next, but is all bound together by the endearing refrain “I want to be where your heart is home” over M. Ward’s kindly country gentleman guitar.
Some of Volume Two will simply bring a smile to your face. “Sing”, invites you to join in its wonderful sing-along chorus, and interestingly enough written in reaction to watching the Master P episode of MTV’s Cribs (which makes it the only song clearly not from 1963). “Over it Over Again” sounds straight out of the Brill Building, chalk full of as many “Oohs”, “Aahs”, and “LaLas” as any great girl group hit.
However, not all of Volume Two is golden. “Me and You” pairs gentle pedal steel and swirling strings but meanders too much, and “I’m Gonna Make It Better” is rather pleasant to the ear, but is a pretty standard country romp.
The last two songs include the album’s most sparing arrangements but are also among Volume Two’s best, as “Brand New Shoes” is a tender and intimate waltz and “If You Can’t Sleep” is an a cappella lullaby where Zooey’s voice floats above clouds of billowy harmonies and into your dreams.
While Volume Two may in a lot of ways just be more of the same sweet love songs from Volume One, Two finds the pair more comfortable and confident than their debut. She & Him has invited us, once again, to come in and share in their love of a more innocent, idyllic era of music, and Zooey’s charm makes it difficult to do anything but come inside.