She & Him’s new album “Volume Two” is happy music. Not unlike their first album (the equally cleverly titled “Volume One”) She & Him’s vintage-inspired indie pop is the type of music you go to when you just want a little bit of non-commercial pop that doesn’t start to grate your ears as some of the radio ready stuff tends to do.
The duo, comprised of actress Zooey Deschanel and folkie M. Ward, does not stray far from the formula they established in “Volume One,” but their sophomore album is more confident and slightly bolder in experimenting with styles.
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Deschanel (of “500 Days of Summer” and “Elf” fame) wrote all but two of the songs. Although she also wrote for “Volume One,” “Volume Two” proves she’s not a fluke. With this album Deschanel really solidifies her place as a musician and not simply an actress trying out music. Her songs have what a lot of indie pop lacks these days: hooks that you can sing along to. Even after a first listen, these tracks are delightfully stuck in your head.
The first track “Thieves” is jarring to those familiar with the first album, with a slightly Spanish rhythm, has the sound of a Johnny Cash song as Deschanel warbles “that love like ours is terrible news.” Most of the other songs settle into the previously established She & Him mold. The single, “In the Sun,” with it’s piano melody (Deschanel plays piano on most of the tracks) and back-up vocals by the tap dancing band Tilly and the Wall has a 60s girl group feel as does “Sing.” Other songs have a twangy, rockabilly sound, while the final track “If You Can’t Sleep” hearkens back to an even older style. It feels like it could be ripped off a Doris Day or Rosemary Clooney album.
Credit is due to Ward as well, whose full-bodied arrangements round out Deschanel’s catchy melodies, and you can’t deny the influence the Beatles had on some of his guitar licks.
The group should be commended for their choice of covers as well. While on the first album they chose to take on songs that are staples of the American pop music canon, such as the Beatles’ “I Should Have Known Better” and the oft-covered “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” this time they went for “Gonna Get Along Without You Now” and “Ridin’ in My Car” written by Milton Kellem and Alan G. Anderson, respectively. Both are fun choices and don’t have to compete with more familiar versions.
Most of Deschanel’s lyrics stick with the vintage feel of the album save for one indiscretion. When she begins “Sing” with the lines “Talking on the phone and watching ‘Cribs’/ He doesn’t know what kind of guy he is” you might have the tendency to take a step back and say: “Woa, I thought we were in 1963.” But it doesn’t really matter because the ba da da dums in the rest of the song bring them back where She & Him are comfortable: the past.