Zooey Deschanel’s persona in She & Him has always seemed charmingly tragic. The guise Deschanel has created through her music is in itself a study in contrasts: At one point she’s Zooey the actress, living up to her indie-darling standards in music videos by dancing in schools in brightly colored Mary Janes, and the next she’s exposed, pouring the depths of her soul into a heartbreaking drawl on record. Likewise, She & Him’s Volume Two is a bittersweet romance filled with tumultuous highs and lows. It’s endearingly devastating and it’s seriously addicting.
She & Him
The folk-pop duo, composed of poster child for all things hipster Deschanel and singer-songwriter M. Ward, is certainly an odd couple in theory. But the juxtaposition of Deschanel’s Karen Carpenter-meets-Doris Day vocals and Ward’s twangy yet soulful guitar melodies makes it sound like they were made for each other.
Volume Two feels like a reunion of old friends. The album is a continuation of the retro-vibing, antique sound that made vinyl junkies fall for the duo’s folksy debut in the first place. But there’s a definite sense of maturation embedded within. Deschanel, who generally writes the chord progressions, lyrics and melodies, seems more confident in her throwback ’60s soda-pop realm, and Ward, who produces, arranges and does all the instrumentation, takes no qualms with letting her vintage vocals take center stage.
Although Volume Two never quite leaves its lovelorn, dusty-vinyl comfort zone, it’s reassuring to know that some things will always stay the same. Indeed, the record’s stand-out track “In the Sun” waxes nostalgia for Volume One’s taste of wholesome pop perfection with its cheery chorus: “We all get the slip sometimes everyday / I’ll just keep it to myself in the sun, in the sun.”
But a wholesome demeanor is really what sets She & Him apart from other bands today. Complete with breezy harmonies and velvety vocals, Deschanel’s cooed lyrics delve into the first flashes of love (and eventually heartbreak) all the while artfully maintaining a sense of seductive mystery. On “Lingering Still” the duo takes cues from The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Behind a kitschy Hawaiian melody, Deschanel murmurs the lyrics “He’s never gonna know me if he doesn’t want to just shake my hand” — a refreshing take on courtship in a day and age where 15-year-olds are singing about their own personal promiscuities.
For those who are not a member of Deschanel fandom (though if you’re reading this, there’s a decent chance you are), her adorable pin-up-girl vibe may just be too much loveliness to handle. The delicate tear between sweetness and sickness teeters on the track “Home.” Deschanel is quite aware of her hipster-twee charm and uses it to its fullest potential here. Between bouncy lyrics (“You’re the nicest, nicest boy I’ve ever met / I think about you, then I think about you again and again”), lullaby melodies and twang-soaked riffs, it’s pop perfection for the Deschanel devotee but cuteness overload for every other listener.
With Volume Two, She & Him dabbles with fuller arrangements and boldly embraces its classic AM pop yet modern smoke-lounge vibe. Sure, it’s more of the same, but when the same consists of cleverly composed, soulful, throwback melodies sung by today’s reigning indie queen, is that really such a bad thing?