By Chris Moore:
RATING: 4 / 5 stars
I read recently that Volume Two is, in so many words, a collection of some of the brightest sounding sad songs ever recorded, and I have to agree with that description.
Subtleties such as this are what set She & Him’s follow-up effort apart from the competition.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should concede that, after hearing a track and a half on my first listen, I actually expressed out loud my opinion that I was glad I bought this album, but that I recognized it as a one-speed album of retro pop.
As I have become so accustomed to finding, I was wrong.
By the third track, my nonchalance was deteriorating and before I had completed my first listen, I was hooked by Zooey Deschanel’s unique, alluring lead vocals, backed by M. Ward and company’s instrumentation. Still, I assumed that this would wear off after a few listens.
In ways that I have not quite been able to ascertain and certainly haven’t been able to translate into words, She & Him have managed to walk the line — never crossing it — with what should be derivative sounding retro pop. At times, I feel like I’ve been transported back to the fifties or sixties, listening to A.M. radio of the past. At others, these songs feel as new as any indie rock that’s available today, including the sorts of songs played by Deschanel’s husband, the king of indie himself, Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard.
With two exceptions, this is an album of Deschanel-penned originals, which adds strength to the collection. Were this a disc of covers, there would be no real tie to modern-day, to the lead singer. Instead, there is a sense of urgency and relevance in her words, although the overall sound may lean toward the aforementioned retro genre.
Songs like “Thieves” and “Don’t Look Back” are undeniably the highlights of this crop: unique, distinctive tracks. Although — as per usual — I don’t necessarily agree with the choice of single, “In the Sun” is an entertaining track.
The first half of the album is rounded out with two excellent slower songs. “Lingering” is an infectious little tune, and “Me and You” is a comforting number.
The second half of the album admittedly lags in a couple places. “Home” is perhaps the most notable point. It is not so much that this is a bad song, just that it is not an exemplary one. (But, then, when has any song about home been great? Nice, or heartwarming even, but rarely great.)
“I’m Gonna Make It Better” and “Sing” are good songs, but Volume Two doesn’t really pick up again until the final trio of tunes. The first, “Over It Over Again,” is single material, and certainly first half of the album quality.
Next comes “Brand New Shoes,” a melancholy track that invokes Fiona Apple.
Finally, rounding out the collection, comes the lush, breath-taking vocals of “If You Can’t Sleep.”
Even the covers fit seamlessly — “Ridin’ In My Car” sounding like a natural addition to the originals, and “Gonna Get Along Without You Now” being one of my favorites since my first listen. Still, these songs — particularly the lyrics — sound dated in a way that most of Deschanel’s originals do not.
From front to back, She & Him have made Volume Two an album of authentic and distinctive sounds, simple but moving lyrics, all punctuated by Zooey Deschanel’s characteristic vocals — truly a must-listen.