Indie duo shape their sound
Volume Two by She and Him exhibits the heavily produced but also heavily edited quality, conservative song length, and wholly saccharine nature of the Omaha Sound. And there is something charming about a set of songs with no abrasions, violent breaks, or spots of darkness. This ain’t no Beyoncé album. If you are looking for the party song, the power-walking song, the song to be angry with, or the song to cry to, look elsewhere. The tunes dip and twang like 21st-century doo-wop, lyrics scaling most everything there is to say about romance. I can imagine looking out at the crowd of a live show, the audience rocking and tapping a foot, entranced by the noise, countenance a satisfied smirk busy with musings on lost and unrequited love.
As the title would imply, Volume Two is the continuation of a 2008 album. (Bet you can’t guess what that one’s called.) The albums play together with fluidity; for the albums like the songs that comprise them, cohesion is the rule. Once again, the unlikely conjunction of M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel is so natural that you forget when the instrumental parts begin and the singing ends. Wait, she acts, too?
Of course, you’re skeptical of the actress-singer-model. You should be! On first listen, I thought, “Oh, okay. She’s like Annie Erin Clark of St. Vincent without the talent and intelligence.” But by the end of the album, I grew to appreciate the dearth of glittery extremities. Deschanel’s voice is mellifluous and trained. It never seems to really be aware of what it is singing — or better yet, has just gotten past it. But the best part is it doesn’t emit a single crack or flourish of exaggerated emotion (“I can see your halo”). The smooth delivery is utterly satisfying, and, when you listen to the lyrics, it makes the emotional pull that much more forceful. If Volume Two moves you, it will not be because of its edge, but because of its lack thereof. Deschanel lingers vocally on the “r”s like Kimya Dawson — an endearing quirk. She couldn’t perform these songs in outrageous costumes or to Haitian victims, and that’s okay.
If there is a serious weakness to the album, it is a lyrical awkwardness. Every once in a while when you’re really getting into it, Deschanel will spit out an unrelatable metaphor: “I followed you back to the end of the path, but I never found the door.” But when the lyrics hit, they hit dead on. The seeming simplicity of the instrumentation, which was actually arduously plotted, is mimicked in lyrics like, “I think about you, then / I think about you again / and again.”
M. Ward doesn’t need a lot of noise to create an idealistic haze behind the vocals. The background music persists with unprecedented clarity in a blog-formulated world that appoints a thousand variations of lo-fi to its highest offices. I couldn’t list many other artists who can make guitars and pianos sound like Washed Out at his “chilliest.”
The first two releases by She and Him don’t do everything. They actually kind of only do one thing. They hold you up and keep you there for the duration of their play time, marinating you in an “it’s all right” attitude, which is, I’d argue, one thing damn worth doing. Everything is romance, but a self-conscious adolescent romance, nothing about being “crazy in love.” Nothing too fierce for lying in the grass or doodling at a café.