Volume 2

2010, Merge Records

«She & Him make music for an eternal springtime, when the temperature is warm enough to go riding with the top (or at least the windows) rolled down and the radio turned up»

- that’s what the band’s website says. She & Him are a duo that win hearts with their simplicity: girl and boy, Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, She and Him. They are far from both mainstream and various indie-trends, are not too widely known and obviously don’t strive for such fame in the first place. It’s as if their music came to our days from the 60’s, however, they have nothing in common with all kinds of revivals of our time, because they don’t revive anything – for the two She & Him members, who grew up on songs such as those of the Beach Boys, these sounds and harmonies never lost their relevance.

“Volume Two” of Zooey’s and Matt’s creative co-work are really songs filled with diverse and varied tinges of warmth and sun, carefree, romantic, sometimes pensive, but always disarmingly open-hearted.

She & Him seem to be a lucky combination in themselves: interesting and unusually charming dark-haired girl composing all the songs and a silent guitarist in dark sunglasses, humbly preferring to stand aside. That the main singer on the album is Zooey and she wrote all the music and lyrics pushes her into the foreground to a certain extent – naturally one perceives the songs through her voice and intonations. But it would be a huge injustice to depreciate Matt Ward’s merits – on this album he proved to be a brilliant arranger and instrumentalist, and much as the charming singer may unintentionally tilt the sympathy of the male part of the audience to her advantage, her partner is equally important for their duo. And probably in this enviable balance of Hers and His lies the secret of their music’s attractiveness.

Of course more than just two people took part in the recording of the album – its sound is unpretentious, but rather rich and intense. It’s noticeable right from the start in the light vintage orchestration of “Thieves”. For many of the other songs the guys invited their friends who helped make them more interesting – like Jason Schwartzman, for example, whom Zooey and Matt thank for the bass part in “Lingering Still” in the sleeve notes, or Tilly And The Wall singing “In The Sun” along with Zooey. Songs on “Volume 2” are simple in the best possible way, but each has got something special: bossa-nova in “Lingering Still”, amazing rhythm changes in “Home”, on which the song sways as if they were sea waves, country motifs here and there. And everywhere Zooey’s voice, mostly skittish, but sometimes calm and dreamy, and even sad, it seems. This music is light, but not shallow, simple, but not primitive. Maybe it’s because they play it for fun in the first place and could neglect various practical aspects. One should remember that Zooey Deschanel is an actress by her main profession and Matt Ward pursues a solo career and is also busy with the outfit Monsters of Folk. They come across as people who live in their own little world – a bit weird, but very nice, – try to make their life in it as sweet as they can and don’t really care about what’s going on outside. And when listening to their record one can’t help becoming eager to quickly get there to them, too.

“Volume 2” is a set of songs about boy and girl framed by bright and lively music. They surely ring a bell and are familiar to many listeners. Some of them shine with easiness and lightness, but sometimes not quite a decent boyfriend gets told to go whistle (“Gonna Get Along Without You Now”); many songs are filled with warm and friendly, more often gentle feelings. At the same time an attentive listener will quickly notice Her and His intelligence, let alone their sense of humour. Zooey entwines quite subtly the story of Orpheus and Persephone into “Don’t Look Back”. And take the effervescent backing vocals in “Home” alone! At certain points the guys definitely had their fun. Generally speaking they built many of the songs on the contrast between reflection and frolicsomeness, seriousness and naivety. When Zooey delivers the line “Yes, I am glad to see you” in “Sing” it sends shivers down one’s spine, but when she starts to sing «pa-ra-ra-ram» bewilderment comes up instead: can she be serious for at least one minute or does she only play and tease?

Sometimes the hot Californian sun hides behind the clouds which cast dim anxiety over our heroes – like in “Thieves” (for which a marvelous video was shot absolutely in the She & Him spirit). But the bright summer in itself can sometimes cause nostalgia and light sadness – that’s what one of the best songs on this album, “Ridin’ In My Car”, is about. I don’t even want to analyse its component parts separately in an attempt to explain this poignant magic – it’s just that She & Him (and before them NRBQ, one should assume) succeeded in that rare musical chemistry which lets life itself sound through songs.

Closer to the end of the album the similar-tempoed songs kind of blend into each other, and that tires a little – probably the musicians should have interspersed them with a slower number like “Brand New Shoes”, which, on the contrary, is at the end. The record concludes with the lullaby “If You Can’t Sleep”, which Zooey and a few voices of hers sing a capella. That’s the way this nice couple take their leave of us, saying: “Goodbye shadows”.

One more track was left out of the album, and it’s the one that stands out a little embarrassingly against the background of the main material of “Volume 2”. “I Knew It Would Happen This Way” is Zooey’s saddest song, on this short number she appears in a different light: unlike, for example, Skeeter Davies’s playful cover “Gonna Get Along Without You Now”, here she sounds sad and serious – precisely serious. The guys released two singles for the album, opposite in mood. For the first one, the summery “In the Sun”, they recorded the cover of the Beach Boys song “I Can Hear Music”. The rainy “I Knew It Would Happen This Way” became part of the second one, the limited-edition “Thieves”.

She & Him are engaging and fascinating because of full absence of vulgarity and anything ribald or dubious. The main sensation that this music leaves behind is tenderness that sounds in the voice of this cute and funny girl followed closely by the faithful musician, whose instrument in fact sings as beautifully as she does. As the record ends it seems that this inseparable couple will come out on the porch, thinking what to do now, and… maybe they’ll buy themselves an ice-cream to begin with.

She & Him - Thieves from Merge Records on Vimeo.

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Paul Saunders