She & Him - Volume Two

The quintessential indie pixie dream girl (Shout out to Sean for that phrasing) returns with M. Ward in tow for another folk pop compilation. Volume Two finds the aforementioned dream girl Zooey Deschanel singing more songs about love, much in the vein of 2008's Volume One, but with less variation in style. Instead, She & Him stick ardently to drum-driven '50s style country/folk pop, adorned with strings, piano and the rattling of acoustic guitar (with some simple, but extremely effective electric guitar solos and riffs). The composition and identity are tighter in Volume Two and it feels less like an experiment or larf, and more like a serious project. And each song is loaded with Deschanel's feelings of isolation from love, rather than a quest for it. Tracks like "Don't Look Back" and "Lingering Still" build off of the idea that love is all about stars aligning, and single moments that go awry. It's not that love seems wholly evasive, but that it appears and drifts away faster than we want. And for that I applaud She & Him. It's a more grown album. The dour "Me and You" which opens with the lines "Well I'm back in your good graces again/Remember when you told me I was your only friend?" identifying that sense that we drift in and out of each other's lives endlessly and that the worrying "you" of the song has let life hold him back from what love has to offer. It's an all-too-true story that we've all experienced. Love is about opening up to it, and when we don't, or at least tie ourselves too greatly to our fears, we tend to miss out on experiences we may value. The common thread is love breaking down, and in "Gonna Get Along Without You Now," Deschanel throws down the verbal gauntlet of a woman alienated. The lyrics are built on confidence, though, and while there isn't a sunny disposition to every track, there is a tough exterior, one that seems always declaring, "I can do better." It's not a stark contrast to Volume One, but definitely lacking the quiet sadness of songs like "Sentimental Heart" and even the pleading forcefulness of "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?"

What's better, though, is that there's no sophomore slump here. The music has advanced organically, and Deschanel's vocals are again pitch-perfect, if relatively unchallenged by big, dramatic maneuvers. The tracks feature a more lush feel, with more overlaid tracks of vocals and backing vocals, and while several of the songs sound similar, they define themselves with quality words. I suppose, after hearing Charlotte Gainsbourg's IRM, this album feels a little too consistent, but in listening to Volume One and Two back-to-back, it does feel like a complete pairing. There is a timelessness to the music Ward and Deschanel create, partly because its influences are classic folk songs, but also because the ideas are infinite. It's all love. The whole album. Love never seems to be a happy thing here, but it is the driving force for every action and decision. It stops short of the "Love/Fear" line lampooned in Donnie Darko, but the album definitely projects a variation of that sentiment. We're not getting behind Deschanel as a lovable loser, we're standing before her pulpit to learn the lessons she wishes to bestow. In one way, that makes the album preachy, but in another, the unapologetic delivery endears it to you too. And the band deftly incorporates NRBQ's "Ridin' in My Car" into the chain of romantic lamentation, which deserves a special round of applause itself. My only major gripe is that there aren't a lot of songs that grab you, and on an album that comes in at under 45 minutes, that can make it run together and drift by. Still, the opening track "Thieves" and eleventh "Over It Over Again" are both true gems. Volume Two is, as said above, a more mature album that blends some of the "love makes me sad" vibe of Volume One with a distinct "love comes and goes and screw you for letting it go person X" vibe. It's a literal embodiment of the phrase "love's labours lost." While I'd have like to love this album more, I can't decry its skill and beauty. It's a winner, and it captures reality in an angelically beautiful voice.

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