ALBUM REVIEW Pretty confections for the ears

She & Him’s Volume Two revamp retropop and create some mellow tunes

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Indie sweetheart Zooey Deschanel returns to the music scene with She & Him’s Volume Two.
Courtesy of Merge Records

Volume Two

She & Him

Released March 17, 2010

Merge Records

Zooey Deschanel is the pinup girl of the indie scene. Her porcelain doll features and piercing blue eyes, framed in a mass of raven waves, are her trademarks. She shows up on the red carpet in divine vintage pieces. Oh, did I mention that her husband is Ben Gibbard, the frontman of Death Cab for Cutie? All she has to do as the indie sweetheart is continue her role as a vivacious sprite in cult-indie films and maybe dabble in an album or two. Her music duo with M. Ward, She and Him, released their sophomore album Volume Two, much to the rejoicing of her devoted followers.

Volume Two does not attempt to be anything it’s not. Deschanel has not taken the road of producing conventional pop albums — a wise decision seeing how many other actresses have tried and failed. The actor-turned-popsinger has become a Hollywood punch line. She’s not cranking out booty-call radio-catchy tunes. Deschanel will leave that to Katy Perry, her more flamboyant and tawdry counterpart. Deschanel delivers her second album with the same simplicity and whimsy that is characteristic of her. Poignant, sweet, and a touch intellectual, Volume Two is both effortless and elegant. Her sophomore album reveals much more involvement on Deschanel’s part than in Volume One. Whereas Volume One churned out more scattered tracks and was tentatively SoCal folk rock, now Deschanel delves deeper and brings out more of herself. She continues to sing, write, and produce. However, Volume Two has more Deschanel and less Ward. Such is the contrast to over-produced, over-managed productions whose only appeal is the fame of the actress (ahem, Leighton Meester).

Deschanel has a manner of singing that sounds lighthearted and cheeky even when crooning about heartache. One can almost hear her girlish sighs and dimpled smiles through the pauses in her croons. The juxtaposition of sunniness and longing is a throwback. The melodies are gentle and soothing. The imagery conjured by her gentle lilts and throaty coos is one of white summer dresses, California blue skies, and picnicking in the woods.

The raven-haired beauty is not one to play the damsel in distress. Despite the soft breeziness of her tunes, she asserts her firmness in particular lines. For instance, in “Over It Over Again”, she asks “Why do I always want to sock it to you hard? / Let you know what love is like when I’m keeping my cards up.” Despite the image of headstrong independence that she projects, Deschanel still delivers the line with a touch of a smile. Deschanel covers the NRBq’s 1977 single “Ridin’ in My Car” and Patience and Prudence’s “Gonna Get Along Without You.” I prefer Deschanel’s cover of “Ridin’ in My Car” over the original. While NRBq’s can get lost amongst the other Beatles-inspired 1970’s rock tracks, Deschanel is able to create a more relevant interpretation. Her version of “Gonna Get Along Without You” is more mature and flirtatious than the original. Her hums and hmm’s mellow out the track while still maintaining the endearing nature of the song.

While it is true that some of the tracks blend together, the instrumental arrangements are marvelous, courtesy of M. Ward. Deschanel’s songs may be simple and sweet, but Ward synthesizes, teases, and tugs until they come into their own. It may be difficult to rock out to Deschanel but her tracks are perfect for chilling at a quaint coffeehouse or strolling through boutiques. They are pretty, ephemeral confections. Deschanel may not have revolutionized anything, but has recreated timeless tracks and crafted some pretty good ones of her own.