Amelia’s Magazine | Album Review – She & Him – Volume 2

I suppose I should let Zooey Deschanel go by now. I was so young at the time, a mumbling, shy teenager with a crappy haircut (admittedly, the hair hasn’t improved much) when I first developed a bit of a pathetic fancy for those big blue eyes of hers – I can’t say my admiration of her looks hasn’t dimmed, admittedly (and somewhat shallowly), but I’ve grown wary of her acting ability. Being typecast is something some, if not most, actors attempt to avoid, yet Zooey thrives on playing what’s referred to in critical circles as the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ role – a bit kooky, a bit insane, and just a tad an absolute fiction of a person, one who exists in the minds of fevered male youth everywhere. Her purpose is to bring the lead male out of his emotional shell, to embrace life, to seize the day (and, presumably, to act as therapist and counsellor and tissue) – to be, in effect, a nothing of a person but a blank canvas who’s just waiting for a chance to listen to all the moaning and despairing and general torment of the soul that characterises the most privileged demographic group in history, the Young White Western Man of the 21st Century.

So – as her roles keep her locked up in a safe little box, a box that doesn’t allow too much range (even (500) Days of Summer, whilst specifically a film about how real life doesn’t conform to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl stereotype, was hardly a stretch), I’m in danger of losing sight of Zooey Deschanel, Actress. All I will have left is Zooey Deschanel, Attractive Celebrity. Being left with that would just be unfair to her as an individual, considering how lovely she is an all – though let’s not concentrate on how I know this, or how I met her, or how her height disappointed me, or how her strapless dress was perhaps a brave choice for the evening but she rocked it admirably – let’s leave that for now. OK? OK. What we’re talking about today is She & Him’s Volume 2, the second album from the musical collaboration between Zooey and folk singer-songwriter M. Ward. Their first, the aptly-titled Volume 1, was an excellent stab at breathing new air into 60s country-folk, and Volume 2 is a further step forward. What it also does is reaffirm, for little old neurotic me, that Zooey Deschanel is a very ably-talented singer and songwriter. Zooey Deschanel, Artist, if you will.

Halfway through first track ‘Thieves’ and the blueprints from Volume 1 are still there – gentle drumbeats, an electric guitar-line with a lovely country twang, and Zooey’s lilting voice that’s as sweet as a glass of freshly-squeezed fruit juice (I’m an orange man, myself, but other fruits such as banana or kiwi would be acceptable alternatives). It can feel a bit like well-trodden territory, but the compositions are just accomplished enough to avoid this (though, of course, one has to ask how long this formula – and it is a formula – can keep working).

M. Ward still stays mostly in the background, leaving the spotlight to his leading lady, except for a notable appearance on a cover of NRBQ’s ‘Ridin’ In My Car’, here reinterpreted as a duet. The other cover here, the Milton Kellem-penned standard ‘Gonna Get Along Without You Now’, also manages to be reinterpreted in such a way that’s not hugely different to the more memorable versions by singers like Skeeter Davis – things are shifted around only slightly to achieve that She & Him vibe. Zooey’s recurring lyrical theme here is of losing or dumping a man but being the happier for it, so the background hums and ahs on this cover totally fit between the ballad to Californian lovin’ that is ‘Home’ and the filled-with-longing ‘ba-da-da-dum’ chorus on ‘Me and You’.

In The Sun’, also a single, fizzes and bumps along thanks to Ward letting his guitar do a little bit more work than on Volume 1 – I think it can be safely said that he’s let himself show a little bit more here. Despite mentioning earlier that, yes, he’s still largely a background figure, the actual music that carries Zooey’s lyrics so delicately is still mostly his work, and there are some more flourishes, a few more touches of individual energy that come peeping through. He’s got a very distinctive husk of a voice, and it would be nice if he could show us a bit more, but, as it is, Zooey still does well on her own. You can hear the smile on her face when she sings, “why do I always want to sock it to you hard?” on ‘Over and Over Again’ – she plays the role of the strong-willed woman admirably, and these are most determinedly not laments. At its heart this album is about sassiness.

I suppose the main lesson to be learned from She & Him is that soft rock isn’t a terrible sin. Sure, it’s repetitive, but when the basic framework is so enchanting (especially on closer ‘If You Can’t Sleep’, which has a fair shout at being the most beautiful lullabies you’ll hear this year). There’s something comforting about familiarity, and here that comfort comes in spades.

Categories ,album, ,Country Rock, ,folk, ,ian steadman, ,In The Sun, ,Indie, ,Indie Folk, ,M. Ward, ,Milton Kellem, ,NRBQ, ,review, ,She & Him, ,She and Him, ,Skeeter Davis, ,Volume 1, ,Volume 2, ,Volume One, ,Volume Two, ,Zooey Deschanel

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Amelia’s Magazine | She and Him, Premiere of their New Video

She and Him

She and Him are cool eh? Zooey Deschanel in the vintage clothes I would love in my collection and marvelous fringe, pilule and Matt Ward, wearing his sunglasses and nonchalance. They’re also very happy sounding, which is great when strolling along a beach or beetling about in an open top car. But also when our beloved month of January is upon us, and we don’t reside in the Southern Hemisphere. Joyous music can be very important for SAD (seasonal affective disorder) fighting. Like Angel Delight, oh so sweet, it’s a joy to surround ourselves with sunny sounding high notes and chorus ‘badadadaaaas’. Ah swimming in a dessert bowl. Together these two create dreamy, poppy, nostalgic music that’s gentle, pleasant and cute as a button.

So, as a sunny treat, here we have the premiere of the new video for She & Him’s ‘Don’t Look Back’ (Merge US, Domino Records UK) directed by Jeremy Konner.

She & Him – Don’t Look Back from Merge Records on Vimeo.

Ward says on their website: “There are a lot of people who write music so that they can take their audience to a dark night of their own soul or to get something really heavy off their chest. I don’t think Zooey looks at music that way, and I think that’s a huge part of where her songwriting is coming from. Certain people write songs to make other people feel good. When I think about some of my favorite singers, like Sam Cooke or people of that generation, I think that they saw their gift as the ability to make people feel better, to feel happy. It’s contagious to be around people like that.” Delightful indeed.

Categories ,Angel Delight, ,Domino Records, ,Dreamy Pop, ,Helen Martin, ,Jeremy Konner, ,Matt Ward, ,Merge Records, ,Nostalgia, ,Sam Cooke, ,She and Him, ,single, ,video, ,vintage, ,Zooey Deschanel

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