Volume Two – She & Him

Volume Two

She & Him

Merge Records


Finally, the new She & Him album has been released.  As you well know from a week or so ago, I was very impressed with Volume One and was therefore, waiting patiently for this, Volume Two to come out.  M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel’s collaboration on this second album is a fruition, and hopefully an inevitable look at what will come.

Whereas Volume One had more of a lo-fi vibe, Volume Two improves upon that sound.  I always thought that the first album had an old 1970’s aspect to it; not necessarily because of its folk / country / California-pop sound (which this second album still encompasses), but because of the recording noise behind it.  M. Ward has always used analog recording techniques and equipment, and on Volume One the sound had a very sparse feeling to it.  And although these same techniques were most likely used on Volume Two, the music has evolved to be noticeably more modern.  More instruments equal a fuller sound.

What’s really great about M. Ward’s arrangements is the music behind Deschanel’s voice.  Every instrument that is used is extremely clear.  They barely ever muddle into each other (with a noticeable exception for “In the Sun” where the dueling guitars are supposed to blend into each other).  “Don’t Look Back” offers a great example of this.  We’ve got a piano lick, Ward’s chugging guitar, another one or two guitars which accentuate both the rhythm and vocals, some strings, drums, and a bass. Yet, all of these instruments are distinctly apparent.  And on top of that, Deschanel’s lead vocals and numerous harmonies are pronounced.  Almost every song has this aspect which really nails a great mood in.  The mixing and production that went into this album really show off well.

Which brings us to Deschanel’s vocals.  I’ve already mentioned that I’m a big fan of her saccharine voice (as well as everything about her really).  On this new album, Zooey still has the same sweet, pure twang that she possessed on the first.  The only difference is the level of relaxation on the two albums.  On Volume Two, she sounds much more comfortable with herself as a whole.  Her voice resonates with her lyrics, helped along by Ward’s musicality.  The mix always pushes her singing up front, focusing in on her melodies.  While the instruments may be content with taking a backseat, they seek to balance her vocals with a jangly tinge.

Meanwhile, her layered background vocals and harmonies provide an intensity that only has grown between these past two years between albums.  While she was extremely talented already with this feature on Volume One, Volume Two shows her ability to grow as a musician.  This second album is prominent with layers upon layers of vocal track, creating a huge sound, seemingly on par with “California Dreaming” from The Mamas & the Papas (an obvious influence on She & Him).  One only has to be directed to the closing song “If You Can’t Sleep” to understand.  The entire song is composed of only voices, an a cappella effect that I’ve always been entertained by.  While Ward has some vocal tracks on this song, Deschanel really is the most obvious.  The reserved humming background on this track creates a simple yet effective touch, ending the album perfectly.

There are very few critiques I have about this album, as a whole.  The first, which should be apparent because I’m a stickler for it, is the tracking of the songs.  While “If You Can’t Sleep” is a perfect closing number, the introduction could’ve been replaced.  The point of the first song on any album is to draw the listener in.  Most frequently, an uptempo track will solve this problem, but a slower number can work too, if it’s interesting enough.  However, “Thieves” doesn’t quite work in either way.  It’s a good song, however, doesn’t effect the interest of the audience right away.  I probably would’ve started this album off with “In the Sun,” a song that provides a sunny uptempo idea.  This would’ve even served as a great contrast to the last song which has a more somber attitude.  Yes, it’s a small criticism, but I feel it’s important.

Secondly is Zooey Deschanel’s comfort zone.  I love her voice and her vocals.  You know that already.  She seems to have a wonderful sense of control and a great sense of melody.  But I don’t ever get an idea of how much power she has behind her voice.  She may seem to be more comfortable singing on Volume Two, however her voice is always reserved and peaceful.  I’d love to hear her really belt or wail out her vocals, commanding the song to go whichever way she chooses it to go.  I understand that California-pop is supposed to be more relaxed than most, but still, I believe she has the stopping power to really have an energetic, potent showstopper.  Not that she particularly needs this aspect to her voice, but I believe it would suit her well.

She has somewhat come out of her shell as a writer on this album.  Her lyrics may exude simplistic ideas, mainly revolving around love (either lost or gained) and semi-clichés.  Yet, there are a few examples of better compositions.  A major specimen is the song “Sing.”  She mentions the MTV show “Cribs” in the beginning.  This may date her material, but it’s a specific image that really stands out.  She takes a risk with her writing, and it pays off.

I haven’t really talked much about the best song on Volume Two, the awe-inspiring “In the Sun.”  Yes, it is an uptempo track as I’ve already mentioned.  The musicality behind it is perfect though.  The piano line is really catchy, and the guitars frame it.  Zooey’s vocals really stand out, as she sounds energetic on the verses and the chorus.  Besides a few snippets of Ward’s vocals spread throughout the record, this heavily features other vocalists.  Tilly and the Wall make an appearance as the background singers, and they appeal to detail the essence of the song following Deschanels “It’s alright, It’s okay.”  The song ends with some great guitar work by M. Ward with two of them dueling.  He’s not afraid to rip with melodic lines while still keeping the atmosphere intact.  It’s his confidence that really sells it, even going so far as to end the number abruptly. 

Go out and buy this album.  That’s really all I have to say.  It’s a warm-sounding album, that peacefully underlies feelings of love and tenderness, also giving ample time to loneliness and solitude.  Ward’s arrangement of the songs brings out the mood of each song.  This is followed up by the engineering and mixing of Mike Mogis (the other half of Bright Eyes who isn’t Conor Oberst).  Anytime either Mogis or Ward is involved in a project, a level of professionalism will always be apparent.  Yet, it’s Deschanel’s vocals and lyrics that really draw the audience in.  She has a serenity available only to her distinct personality and the quality of her singing is superb.  These two really work well with collaborating with each other, and I’d love to see their sound evolve even more later on.

Buy This Album

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