The Weekend Review: April 2012 Report

By Chris Moore:

A Wasteland Companion (M. Ward)

Producer: M. Ward

Released: April 6, 2012

Rating:  3.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “I Get Ideas” & “Primitive Girl”


The “Him” half of nostalgia-rock act She & Him is the more veteran act of the two, and it shows on his most recent release.  A Wasteland Companion is unassuming at most times, but tends to manage that fine balance between simple and boring, leaning ever more towards “chill.”  The Zooey Deschanel – the “She” in She & Him – duet “Sweetheart” doesn’t leap out as much as you might expect it to, but I suppose what can you expect from a one-off non-She & Him album track?  As per usual, a little reverb goes a long way to making M. Ward’s vocals pop in all the right ways for his instrumental sound.  At times, he draws outside the box, as in the distortion on his electric guitar in the standout “I Get Ideas.”  Across the album, the acoustic guitar sparkles and the lyrics propel the sounds, working them into a cohesive yet artistic whole.  Most tracks fly by, many at under three minutes, but this helps to keep up the pace of the album.  When Ward drops the at-times-distracting ambient sounds and focuses on his songs for the words and music as directly as possible, the result is fantastic; and, thankfully, there are enough of those moments represented across this album.




What Kind of World (Brendan Benson)

Producer: Brendan Benson

Released: April 21, 2012

Rating:  2 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Bad for Me” & “The Light of Day”


It’s not so much that What Kind of World is bad so much as it is underwhelming.  Early on, the album suffers from songwriting that can’t sustain the length of the tracks (and the songs aren’t that long).  Later, as the tracks are shorter, they are not as well-constructed as it has already been established a Brendan Benson song can be.  Most of the time, the songs seem more interested in being recorded versions of what must have been fun to play in the studio and would even be fun to play out live, but the overall constructions don’t stand up.  To be certain, there are moments of transcendence, but these are lost in the slow drag that is the larger trend of the album.  Those interested in more of the brilliance hinted at here should revisit 2009’s My Old, Familiar Friend, one of the great works of that year.




Blunderbuss (Jack White)

Producer: Jack White

Released: April 23, 2012

Rating:  4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Freedom at 21” & “Love Interruption”


There is probably no album that Jack White could have released for his solo debut that would have fully made good on all the considerable expectations that have been building now for years.  With his talents and various influences spread throughout longer works of collaboration over the years – most recently, the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather, not to mention more subtle appearances as producer/player with artists like Wanda Jackson – there has always been a diverse range of moments where White’s influence has made itself recognizable.  Here, it is Jack White all the time, and the songs do – understandably, as on any album – fall into patterns and larger trends which are, at first, unusual for White’s work.  This all being said, given the opportunity, Blunderbuss is the deep, dark, quirky work that we expect and desire from White; tracks like the standout “Freedom at 21” and “Love Interruption,” back to back on the album, show off two sonic extremes that White has mastered.  The following song, the title track, takes it down a notch further even.  All in all, for me at least, this album suffered from the evil of high expectations.  It’s taken me the better part of the year to come back to the album again after the initial listening party that was the week after its release; what I’ve found is an excellent collection of well-written lyrics and overall eclectic songwriting: a strong album that is suggestive of the great work that is still to come from Jack White in the years to come.




Little Broken Hearts (Norah Jones)

Producer: Danger Mouse

Released: April 25, 2012

Rating:  3 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Good Morning” & “4 Broken Hearts”


In the past, I haven’t followed the music or the career of Norah Jones all that closely.  When I learned that Danger Mouse would be producing the new album, I was intrigued.  The resulting album Little Broken Hearts is predictably subversive: slow and elusive at times but always with a strong, quirky sense of rhythm.  Of course, Norah Jones’ vocals – as they did in her appearance on the Danger Mouse-produced Rome – are a beautifully layered coat of paint applied to the dry bones of the instrumentation.  Some tracks stand apart from the rest, perhaps most notably in the opener “Good Morning.”  Much of the album requires patience, which is perhaps a way of admitting it lacks drive at times, or at best that it is artistically rendered in such a way as to make easy listening, quick enjoyment difficult.

She & Him’s “Volume Two” (2010) – The Weekend Review

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.

Not so.

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.

She & Him's "Volume Two" (2010)

She & Him's "Volume Two" (2010)

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.