She & Him
Volume Two - Merge
FILTER Grade: 86%
By Kyle MacKinnel on May 14, 2010
A couple of years ago, after recording a Richard and Linda Thompson duet with M. Ward for an indie film soundtrack, actress Zooey Deschanel mustered up the gumption to send her singing partner a secret shoebox of songs she had been saving for a rainy day. Ward was impressed, to say the least, and what followed was She & Him’s Volume One—a collection of polychromatic love songs with audible ties to ’60s AM gold. With it, Deschanel joined a long-standing and not-entirely-illustrious tradition of dual-threat entertainers. However, thanks to her startlingly adept songwriting and polished alabaster voice, along with Ward’s tasteful, sun-baked instrumentation, the decision proved a rewarding one.
Volume Two sees the return of She & Him and with fantastic results. Any shyness surrounding Deschanel’s songwriting on the first record has melted away, and here she is unabashed, graceful and poignant. Ward has followed suit, fleshing out the production canvas right along with Deschanel's ever-growing gusto. While Volume One appeared to take varied angles at an up-and-down relationship, Two jumps to the rocky aftermath, with our heroine heartbroken but assuredly hopeful.
The record’s standout arrives quickly in the form of the opener, “Thieves,” a shimmering, timeless ballad complete with Ward’s bolero guitars and gorgeous string-section flourishes. The track sounds ideally suited to vinyl, and exemplifies the astounding quality of Deschanel’s songwriting. Ruminating on a romance gone wrong, but perhaps reflective of a wider view, she muses, “I’m not a prophet/Old love is in me/New love just seeps right in and it makes me guilty.” It just might be the She & Him manifesto. Onward, she shines: “We two are makers/Just made this mess/Two broken hearts don’t beat any less.”
Appropriately, the first ray of light appears on lead single, “In the Sun,” a marching rhythm scored over by a declaration of perseverance. “Don’t Look Back” feels like The Ronettes and really flexes, employing round-style harmonies and showcasing Deschanel’s low-register alto. “Ridin’ in My Car” is a refurbished NRBQ cover that feels right at home, complete with Deschanel’s coos and Ward’s reverb-dipped guitar solo.
Another highlight comes in the form of “Me and You,” a downtempo number whose instrumentation recalls Neil Young via Nashville—right down to the hazy pedal steel—and features the refrain, “You’ve gotta be kind to yourself.” “Over It Over Again” is a quirkier piece, but manages it endearingly and with a Motown vocal harmony section. “If You Can’t Sleep” closes this volume peacefully with a dreamy a cappella serenade.
She & Him might have begun as a simple experiment between two friends, but Volume Two might fall among the best recent output from either She or Him. It is especially unfathomable that Deschanel was once tentative about her songwriting, and (with all due respect to her acting ability) this record might serve to suggest that she has two true callings. On “Lingering Still,” Deschanel sings, “And the world’s like a science and I’m like a secret/And I saw you lingering still.” Well, the secret is out, and now may it run free. KYLE MacKINNEL