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THE CRITIC: She & Him’s “Volume Two” Full of Lighthearted and Catchy Pop Tunes

by Rudy Klapper 16 March 2010 387 views One Comment E-mail Rudy Klapper

She & Him - Volume Two

Merge Records 2010

Rating: 7/10


Volume Two is about as appropriate a title as one could hope for from Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward’s second collaborative effort. It’s simple, it’s straightforward, and it’s without a doubt true: where 2008’s Volume One was the first example of She & Him’s sun-kissed brand of ’60s girl-group pop and singer-songwriter folk pastiche, Volume Two is, uh, the second. Volume One consisted of thirteen tracks, three of those covers; Volume Two consists of thirteen songs as well, but ups the ante with only two covers. M. Ward makes only the occasional vocal contribution, preparing to work the production behind the scenes and let his vintage guitar do the talking, as he did on Volume One. Hell, even the album art is eerily similar, with that same slightly creepy faceless girl and a different color scheme. And Zooey is, well, still Zooey, never falling prey to the conceit of oversinging and using that lovely, country-inflected alto to melt Ben Gibbard’s heart. In short, it’s the same She & Him those who enjoyed Volume One fell in love with, and it’s the same She & Him that bored many to tears.

Is this a bad thing? Every listener will have a different opinion, but what it really comes down to is how you like your pop music, and whether you were really expecting any stretches in musical boundaries for Ward and Deschanel. To begin with, She & Him were never a revolutionary idea, merely two friends recalling the sounds of their youth and recreating them with the kind of steady hand and fine point that love and care brings along. They accomplished that effortlessly on their debut, and the results are more or less the same here. “In The Sun” is the same kind of guaranteed hit single (if one lived in the ’60s) that “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” was, although it lacks the blistering guitar solo that made the latter so much fun. Songs like “Don’t Look Back,” the gentle “Lingering Still,” and the swelling, bubbly tones of opener “Thieves” all call to mind the kind of Brill Building via Nashville blend that She & Him performed with so much flair on Volume One, and really nothing more. The fact at the heart of everything on Volume Two is that everything here could just as easily have been on Volume One.

But what made Volume One such a great record was its time capsule-esque quality, how it captured the sound of a bygone era and made it in the here and now without a hitch, and Volume Two, for all its (some would say necessary) similarity to its predecessor, repeats that feat remarkably well. While listening to the repetitive titular refrain of “Over It Over Again” near the end of the record, I was frustrated, disappointed with the seeming sameness of the record. It’s a classic case of overlooking the forest for the trees. Volume Two is a beautifully crafted record, as more listens prove - so long as you accept that this is what She & Him are and have been, and that this is what She & Him will likely always be. NRBQ cover “Ridin’ In My Car” is a delightful beach cruiser of a song, with a rare Ward appearance the icing on the cake. “Me and You” takes the duo’s understated country appreciation to a serene, gorgeous place, all wobbly pedal steel and Deschanel’s woodsy, ’70s folk singer vibe. And “Home” might be She & Him’s best song yet, a graceful swoon of a song floating in breezy strings and airy drums, the kind of cool, carefree California rock ‘n roll that Deschanel epitomizes.

There won’t be that same flashbulb that went on after hearing Volume One, that shock that this was a modern working actress and her pal and not some long-lost Beach Boy groupies. For better and for worse, She & Him can’t go back to the beginning, but they can do a fine job of recreating it. This is lighthearted, carefree pop music, but it’s also surprisingly enchanting and, well, so damn catchy. There’s nothing clumsy about this, no famous actress hooking up with a talented songwriter to write meaningless songs (see: Johansson, Scarlett) - just a guy and a girl inviting you to share in their mutual loves a second time. And for all its delicate curves, for all the “ooh-ahs” and multilayered harmonies, for all the guitars on strings and bouncy piano and crisp drums, that’s just exactly what it is: a love for good, old-fashioned pop music, pure and simple.

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One Comment »

  • Sonja said:

    Zooey is perfection.

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