(Photo by Autumn De Wilde)
Thus is the gift of Zooey Deschanel's (She) songwriting. Regardless of the emotions her lyrics convey, the music, arranged and chiefly played by M. Ward (Him) is cheerful and upbeat.
While most of "Volume 2," released Tuesday on Merge Records, isn't quite so retro, the tone has been set. Deschanel's vocals and piano, along with Ward's guitar and production at large, seem to come from the ether. It's beautiful music: familiar, yet distant.
Deschanel may be best known as an actress ("Yes Man" and "(100) Days of Summer"), but more albums like this could change that. Her voice is a delight, conveying a certain classic sound while remaining entirely her own. The aptly named "Sing" might be the best showcase for this set of pipes.
Ward is also in fine form for "Volume 2." His arrangements are the perfect compliment to Deschanel's voice. On "Lingering Still" his guitar and Deschanel's piano sound like summer, so light and carefree.
On "Me and You," it's just the opposite. Deschanel's refrain of "You've got to be kind to yourself" is the meat of perhaps the most hopeful message delivered on the album. And yet Ward's arrangement is dark, sparse and downbeat.
It's these playful interactions that make the album such a delight.
Best of all, it's a lighthearted listen throughout. It's serves as proof that thoughtful music doesn't have to be dark. A little bit of sunshine does just fine.
My spin: A-
She & Him have produced another fine album in "Volume 2." After 2008's "Volume 1," expectations were high for this one, and they have been exceeded. The unlikely alliance of the starlet and the folkie is still working. Let's hope they keep it up.
Other standouts on the album include lead single "In the Sun," "I'm Gonna Make It Better," "Over It Over Again" and the covers "Ridin' In My Car" and "Gonna Get Along Without You Now."
While Deschanel's acting career and Ward's solo work and with Monsters of Folk could get She & Him labeled a "side project," the music is too good to be an afterthought to their careers. They are one of the most delightful collaborations in music today.
Released: March 23 on Merge Record
She: Zooey Deschanel-vocals, piano
Him: M. Ward-production, vocals, guitar, piano, string arrangements, mandolin, vibes, synthesizers
Additional players: Mike Coykendall-bass, guitar, vocals; Tilly and the Wall-vocals; Scott McPherson-drums, percussion; Tom Hagerman, Peter Broderick and Amanda Lawrence-strings; Mike Mogis-percussion, synthesizers, mandolin; Paul Brainard-pedal steel