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Album review: She & Him, "Volume Two"

By Allison Stewart

It never should have worked, this pairing of somber-faced folkie M. Ward and twinkly indie actress Zooey Deschanel. But She & Him's 2008 debut "Volume One" was the year's best, a sonic cupcake of aggressively winsome, heavily borrowed '50s/'60s pop. Like its predecessor, the only slightly lesser "Volume Two" is a work of terrifying, relentless pluck. Its title serves as both an explanation (it's the second volume) and a warning (it sounds just like the first volume).

(Sweet sounds of the '60s, after the jump.)

"Two" hews to the fundamentals established by "One": It's populated by mid-tempo, harmony-rich, country-ish pop songs of varying vintage. Some, like a spot-on cover of Skeeter Davis's "Gonna Get Along Without You Now," hail from the early '60s; others just sound like they do. Deschanel, who writes and sings, and Ward, who produces and provides multi-instrumental work, beef up choruses with walls of backing vocals and experiment with Carole-King-in-Spain-style folk and hymn-like a cappella numbers, but otherwise take few chances.

"Volume Two" is as stubbornly cheery as its predecessor, and its perpetual breeziness is its greatest strength and its thorniest problem. Deschanel, whose emotional range runs the gamut from perky to slightly less perky, conveys the sadness of lost love with all the cute, nose-scrunching frustration of someone who misplaced her car keys.
Deschanel makes up in bravery what she lacks in nuance, her voice pushed to the front of the mix, seemingly unaltered, throughout. It's a telling departure from the performance of comparable actress-turned-singer Scarlett Johansson, whose presence was so shrouded beneath layers of distortion on her own She & Him-like album that it still remains a rumor.

Recommended tracks: "Thieves," "Lingering Still," "Gonna Get Along Without You Now"

By David Malitz  |  March 23, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Quick spins  | Tags: She & Him  
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