She & Him: Volume Two


RIYL: Linda Ronstadt, The Mamas & the Papas, Rosie Thomas

There’s a pretty short list of things you can reasonably expect from an album titled Volume Two, which probably has a lot to do with why Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward decided to use it for their sophomore effort – like their first album, it’s a slight, competently crafted set of retro-evocative mid-tempo numbers, a sort of thrift store trip through the Laurel Canyon pasts of female singers like Linda Ronstadt and Laura Nyro, and by giving it this title, Deschanel and Ward might have been trying to deflect some of the crushing hype that’s dogged them since they announced their collaboration.

Can’t blame ‘em for trying. Actually, they could have tried a little harder – like the first outing, Volume Two has a lazy, tossed-off feel; nothing here is bad enough to make you switch it off, but neither does much of the record stand out. Deschanel’s gotten a lot of credit for being an actor with a real, live singing voice, just as Ward’s been applauded for giving his recordings a warmly authentic retro vibe – but singers are supposed to be able to sing, and music isn’t supposed to need computer gimmicks. All the She & Him hype is based around giving the band credit for things that are supposed to come naturally to musicians, which is puzzling. When did indie rock turn into the Special Olympics?

That might sound a little harsh for an album this offhandedly charming, but there’s no getting around the fact that She & Him intentionally beggar comparisons to better bands, and their music sounds awfully hollow in the bargain. Deschanel sings about heartbreak, and Ward lays on the pedal steel like syrup, but there’s a smirking detachment lurking behind the whole thing that sounds like play-acting. It’s most evident when they try and tackle a page from a truly great songbook – as with Volume Two’s ill-advised cover of NRBQ’s “Ridin’ in My Car” – but it’s always there. You’re better off revisiting the work of the band’s most obvious influences and working your way forward from there. (Merge 2010)

She & Him MySpace page

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