Anyone who watches movies knows that Zooey Deschanel has filled the quirky, cute role for quite a few years — the runaway sister in “Almost Famous” (2000), the childlike girl who works in a toy store in “Elf” (2003) and a blue−eyed heartbreaker in last year’s surprise indie blockbuster “(500) Days of Summer.” Less well−known by name, but an indie staple all the same, M. Ward has released solo albums and has guested for artists ranging from Bright Eyes to Norah Jones. Forming an unlikely pair in the musical duo She & Him, Deschanel and Ward have put out what sounds like a variety of vintage country/pop songs.
She & Him released its second album last week, appropriately titled “Volume Two.” Though its sound remains the same as that of “Volume One” (2008), the singing duo has taken a significant step forward, proving She & Him is not merely a side project for the already successful stars.
With Deschanel belting out the lead vocals and writing the songs, it’s clear from the beginning that she’s taking her quirky, cute label as an actress and bringing it over to music. Thankfully, Deschanel knows how to work her image better than anyone else. Even though her sound can be a little repetitive, she has the potential to lead She & Him to the heights of indie fame with the help of M. Ward backing her up on his guitar, alongside a plethora of instruments that build up her sweet, playful voice.
The first single released from the album, “In the Sun,” has the typical upbeat vibe that many expect from She & Him. Adding to the track are Tilly and the Wall, a small indie pop group from Nebraska. The appeal of the track to a mainstream audience is obvious — it’s simply constructed and makes breaking up seem fun — but this song is by no means the strongest on the album.
It’s hard to beat the album’s opening track, “Thieves,” as Deschanel brings in a sort of Patsy Cline ballad — with an upbeat tempo, of course. Deschanel’s songs, and subsequently, her voice, are at their best when she adds a little twang to the lyrics. Another song that mirrors this country influence is “Lingering Still” — the sound, both from Deschanel’s voice and Ward’s guitar, seems like something straight out of the Grand Ole Opry.
The best track on the duo’s second installment —”I’m Gonna Make It Better” — comes smack−dab in the middle of the album. Here Deschanel and Ward have combined their country/pop sensibilities perfectly. While many of She & Him’s songs are compositionally simple, this track crescendos into an instrumental mid section that makes listeners return for more, while other original tracks, like “Home,” are easily forgettable.
She & Him also know how to construct a slow−moving song, even if it doesn’t seem to be their favorite thing to do. Though they come back−to−back at the end of “Volume Two,” drastically slowing down the mood of the album, “Brand New Shoes” and “If You Can’t Sleep” provide the beauty of the duo’s sound without the upbeat tempo that becomes annoying after 11 tracks.
As in “Volume One,” many of the songs in “Volume Two” blend together, becoming utterly forgettable after the first listen. Though Deschanel and Ward have tried new things — more instruments, more confidence, more complex arrangements — some of the tracks don’t surpass anything more than “cute.”
Two such songs are the album’s covers: NRBQ’s “Ridin’ in My Car” (1977) and Patience and Prudence’s “Gonna Get Along Without You Now” (1956). While Deschanel’s original songs bring a modern mentality to a vintage sound, these obscure covers just sound stale.
For anyone who hasn’t heard of She & Him — and there’s quite a large possibility of this, despite Deschanel’s popularity — their albums are worth a listen. The two albums even go together quite nicely — both being about old love lost and new love found, two of Deschanel’s favorite subjects.