“What can you do with a sentimental heart?” asks actress Zooey Deschanel on the opening track of Volume One, her debut album with songwriter M. Ward. Answer: You can swoon to these tunes for days and days.
|Listen to "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?" from She & Him‘s Volume One:
Zooey and M., who masquerade as the pronominal duo She & Him, hit the emotional nail on the head by offering lyrical feelings that, much like their name, are comfortably vague and universally relatable. Take a few of the song titles, for instance: “Change Is Hard,” “I Was Made For You” and “I Should Have Known Better.” I dare you to tell me you can’t fit those in as chapter titles for your autobiography.
Yep, this is a simple, familiar trip, and She & Him’s music follows suit, but in a way that draws not from the current tenets of the pop charts (drum machines, robotic vocal perfection, floor-shaking synths) but from earlier music molders like Phil Spector (his famous Wall of Sound on The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”) and George Martin (who helped The Beatles realize their visions in the studio).
Unfortunately, it’s when the pair flies too close to their influences that Volume One skips a beat. Their take on The Miracles’ “You Really Got A Hold On Me” could be Figure 1 for pop critic Sasha Frere-Jones’ accusation of indie rock as a soulless music (see Jones’ “A Paler Shade of White” in The New Yorker last year), and the breezy Hawaiian steel guitar on The Beatles’ “I Should Have Known Better” is slightly swoon-worthy, but doesn’t do it justice.
Like "American Gothic" with a guitar: She & Him (from left, musician M. Ward and actress Zooey Deschanel) beat modernity back with a bit of ’60s pop on Volume One.
But She & Him soar when they take Deschanel’s original tunes and run with them. Ward successfully borrows a strumming rhythm from George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” on “This Is Not A Test” before veering onto his own path of winged pop, including what sounds like a kazoo solo (right on!). “I Was Made for You” is overwhelmingly delightful, with multiple Zooeys contributing layers of “Oooh”s, “Ahhh”s and “Dum-dee-dum”s. The country amble of “Got Me” lets Deschanel bring out her vocal twang, and on “Take It Back” you can imagine her swaying sensuously around a ’50s Technicolor movie set.
So close your eyes, slip on those headphones, press play and swoon away. This disc doesn’t succeed because it’s innovative or unexpected. It’s just two souls in love with good ol’-fashioned pop music, and that love gives Volume One a warm glow to wrap around yourself on a chilly night.