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 | An interview with Lavender Diamond and review of new album Incorruptible Heart

Lavender Diamond by Suky Goodfellow
Lavender Diamond by Suky Goodfellow.

Their debut album Imagine Our Love was released in 2007 through Rough Trade to rave reviews, and at last there is a follow up. Hailing all the way from Los Angeles, Lavender Diamond‘s new album Incorruptible Heart is a slice of musical sunshine. With a haunting refrain of ‘I love you I love you I love you‘ recent single Oh My Beautiful World makes me well up with adoration for my darling Snarfle every time I hear it, whilst Everyone’s Hearts Breaking Now conjures up a darkly beautiful world where heartbreak seems somehow manageable. She’s a whirlwind of creativity: I caught up with vocalist Becky Stark to find out more.

Incorruptible Heart - Album Cover
How did Lavender Diamond come together? 
Well I had an idea about the lavender diamond, which was a myth about the original crystal caves deep in the earth and the beautiful sound they made! There is a belief that when one diamond was taken from the cave it silenced the sound, but the soul of the stone lived through the centuries and became the voice of a songbird named Lavender Diamond. I would be that character whenever I would sing or write as Lavender Diamond.  But then I wanted to be a band so I found Ron & Steve & Jeff – well kind of by magic: we just found each other and as soon as we played together it felt very powerful. 

Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond photo Autumn de Wilde
Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond by Autumn de Wilde.

Who has been the biggest influence in your vocal style?
I’m not sure… but I really love Ella Fitzgerald. I think she was the most amazing singer.. but there are many other great singers who have influenced me… Maria Callas, Whitney Houston, Dolly Parton, Cyndi Lauper, Linda Rondstadt. I guess that’s a strange list!

LAVENDER DIAMOND by Clare Corfield Carr
LAVENDER DIAMOND by Clare Corfield Carr.

What have you been doing since the release of your first album Imagine Our Love? I hear you have been particularly busy Becky…
Oh, well, I have mostly been singing and writing music! I joined the Decemberists for a year and sang the role of Margaret in their rock opera, The Hazards of Love. I also made a record with my other band The Living Sisters, and we made an amazing music video with Michel Gondry: The Living Sisters have a new record coming out in January. I also went on the road with She & Him, singing harmonies with Zooey Deschanel and opening their shows. Then I’ve been singing country songs with John C. Reilly & we made a little record that Jack White produced. What else? Oh!  I made a little animation series of uplifting slogans for MTV called Worldword! and also a web series called We Can Do It!

YouTube Preview Image
And I’ve been writing an opera. It sounds like a lot, but there’s always so much to do… 

Your songs are quite epic… what kind of mood are you in when you write them?
Well – different moods. Usually I will write a song to express a feeling, because I need to understand and allow the meaning to change through the expression of the song.

Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond photo by Autumn de Wilde
Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond by Autumn de Wilde.

You speak of the intimate and the global. Are there any things that are especially pressing on your mind and present on this album?
Yes! I think it is so important that everyone realizes that their relationship to everything in the world is direct. 

It’s been a few weeks since your second album came out, who has been raving about it most?
Well – my friends really love it and that means so much to me! 

YouTube Preview Image
There is some stunning cinematography in the Everyone’s Hearts Breaking Now music video: what was the idea behind this?
Oh, well, we had the idea years ago to make a video where I was dancing through the cosmos and falling and galloping through the stars, but we didn’t really know how to pull it off. By chance I ended up in a Doug Aitken video where I had to be in an aerial rig and it was just amazing so it was like I was born to do it! Dancing in the aerial rig was my fantasy come true and I knew we had to find a way to do it. Just a few days after that happened I ran into Maximilla and she had just filmed a test of an aerialist shot in slow motion through a prism, so then we knew we had to make the video like that together. 

Lavender diamond
How was it shot and executed?
Well it was really miraculous: I can’t believe we actually pulled it off. We just asked for help! Our community in LA is really beautiful and supportive. We found the amazing amazing June Zandona, who shot it – and really it was just incredible how it all came together. Our friend Laurel Stearns introduced us to George Augusto who has an artspace called Dilletante and he let us shoot there. Then he introduced us to Elizabeth Newton who is the head of the Circus School in LA. And she agreed to help us because she wanted to help support the expression of the feeling in the dance, which felt so beautiful and heart opening. It was crazy though because I had only ever been in the aerial rig once: but I knew I could do it and Elizabeth believed in me… then it turned out that Elizabeth and I had worked together before because years ago she had been in the Lavender Diamond video for The Garden Rose that Maximilla directed, and she & I had been in a performance of The Citizens Band together in New York when I was a guest together with Amanda Palmer several years ago. So, Elizabeth introduced us to Chobi Gyorgy – who is a flying trapeze artist from Hungary and he builds trapeze schools across the U.S. – and he agreed to build a rig for us and to be my catcher: it was really like a miracle! 

Lavender Dimond By Alia Penner
Lavender Diamond by Alia Penner via instagram.

Our amazing friend Miss KK made a beautiful costume in just one day and everything came together so fast, in about a week, because there was only one day where Elizabeth and Chobi could come and we really weren’t sure we were going to be able to pull it off. We had to figure out how to blow up a crystal, and it was like an action adventure movie. Then editing it was another adventure – but oh I love it so so so much, it was a dream come true. 

Any plans for any new videos and any plans to play in the UK?
Yes, we’re making new videos: I am hoping we will be able to make one for every song because I love making videos. And I hope we will be able to play in the UK but I don’t know when that will be…

Incorruptible Heart by Lavender Diamond is out now on Paracadute. Stream and buy the album here.

Categories ,Alia Penner, ,Amanda Palmer, ,Autumn de Wilde, ,Becky Stark, ,Chobi Gyorgy, ,Circus School, ,Clare Corfield Carr, ,Cyndi Lauper, ,Decemberists, ,Dilletante, ,Dolly Parton, ,Doug Aitken, ,Elizabeth Newton, ,Ella Fitzgerald, ,Everyone’s Hearts Breaking Now, ,George Augusto, ,Imagine Our Love, ,Incorruptible Heart, ,Jack White, ,John C. Reilly, ,June Zandona, ,Laurel Stearns, ,Lavender Diamond, ,Linda Rondstadt, ,Los Angeles, ,Maria Callas, ,Maximilla, ,Michel Gondry, ,Miss KK, ,MTV, ,Oh My Beautiful World, ,Paracadute, ,Rock Opera, ,Rough Trade, ,She & Him, ,Suky Goodfellow, ,The Citizens Band, ,The Garden Rose, ,The Hazards of Love, ,The Living Sisters, ,We Can Do It!, ,Whitney Houston, ,Worldword!, ,Zooey Deschanel

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Amelia’s Magazine | Album Review: She & Him – A Very She & Him Christmas

She & Him by HoBoJoBo
She & Him by HoBoJoBo.

Generally the realm of fluffy instrumentals and cheesy lyrics, it’s hard to take a Christmas album too seriously. But the joy of A Very She & Him Christmas is that Zooey Deschanel (She) and M. Ward (Him) contribute knowingly to an escapist genre and this is obvious right from the getgo. The album’s cover photography features hilarious shots of the duo in matching Yuletide get-up, complete with Santa hats, tartan prints, and a toy reindeer. It’s also worth noting that Ward first discovered Deschanel after hearing her sing on the 2003 comedy Elf.

She & Him by Barb Royal
She & Him by Barb Royal.

M. Ward puts She & Him’s music in context on their website: ‘I believe good production should be like a good photograph, which is a great contrast between dark and light… Somehow it all evens out, creating this perfect picture of life. Because life is not always sunny, it’s not always dark—it’s somewhere in between.’ And so it is that the album’s smiley lyrics are sometimes complemented by skeletal accompaniments or underscored by minor keys, making this a somewhat darker addition to the musical Christmas family.

She & Him by Autumn de Wilde
The Christmas Waltz is the opening track, a gentle number with delicate acoustic guitar, piano and vocals. It’s a whimsical entrance that signals a sparser sound compared with the duo’s earlier albums, Volume 1 and Volume 2 (read Ian Steadman’s lovely Volume 2 review for Amelia’s Magazine here).

Christmas Waltz

What hasn’t changed is the influence 1950s and 60s pop music has had on the pair, and their cover of the Beach Boys’ Christmas Day is an excellent example, where catchy guitar solos and multilayered backing vocals abound.

She & Him by Barb Royal
She & Him by Barb Royal.

The interesting bass line and arpeggiated chords of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, coupled with even more applaudable backing vocals make this feel like one of the most sincere songs on the album, while the sleigh bells and lovely rising outro of I’ll be Home for Christmas formed an upbeat reinterpretation of the classic tune.

She & Him by Autumn de Wilde
She & Him by Autumn de Wilde.

Christmas Wish is where your ears will really perk up though, as you hear the contrast between M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel’s voices. His is gravely and hers has an edgy timbre—combined, the result is magic. Again on Baby, It’s Cold Outside, the whistling, and effortless call and response between the duo make the track sound like it’s born from two people who are musically perfectly attuned to one another. My personal favourite is Silver Bells, stripped back to vocals and a simple ukulele strum, which draws our attention to the lyrics and the pauses between phrases.

Little Saint Nick, whose lyrics can irritate even the most avid Christmas carol lover, takes the Beach Boys influence to further glorious heights with gorgeous vocal harmonies, inspired key changes and a beat contagious enough to have you singing along in a West Coast frame of mind. A Very She & Him Christmas paints a quirky picture in darkness and light, and I’d recommend it for anyone in need of a winter pick-me-up: out now on Domino Records.

Categories ,A Very She & Him Christmas, ,Autumn de Wilde, ,Baby It’s Cold Outside, ,Barb Royal, ,beach boys, ,Christmas Wish, ,domino, ,Elf, ,Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, ,HoBoJoBo, ,I’ll be Home for Christmas, ,Little Saint Nick, ,M. Ward, ,She & Him, ,Silver Bells, ,The Christmas Waltz, ,Volume 1, ,Volume 2, ,Zooey Deschanel

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