I’m only on my second time through She & Him’s follow-up to their surprisingly neat little debut. (Beautiful new website they’ve got, by the way; wonder who designed it?) Normally I like to go through an album — the real way, front to back in one sitting — at least 3 or 4 times until I write up something “official” about it. As “official” as The Sonny. W. Chron. can be, anyhow. But this album comes off so effortlessly likable right from the gate, it’s hard not to jump ahead. Follow nostalgia from the slide guitars to the melodies and to Deschanel’s floaty, almost Nancy Sinatra-esque voice, to a mish-mash of past and present somewhere down the hall or road. That’s that good place of nostalgia; not the piles upon piles of shitty Hollywood “remakes”, or the synth-Rock bands wanting to sound more 80′s-y, or even the mad-mad climate of now akin to the past. Volume Two (they’re calling it) showcases the good nostalgia of a life in the would-be future.
I don’t mind writing/saying this ONE bit: M. Ward is brilliant. Perhaps not as a musician, even though he’s a multi-instrumentalist and an all out owner of the guitar. Each time I hear something he’s produced he blows me away; this washes my mind away more so because of his production style. Ward isn’t particularly interested in the Phil Spector/Pet Sounds/El-P “wall of sound“. Across this album, and a few of his others, tiny sparks of it jump up to the surface on a rare occasion. That isn’t to say Ward crafts a simplistic, stripped down sound. No, not at all. His arrangements are fairly busy, yet still as simple as those oldies he and his lady so honorably admire and carefully pay tribute. These are simple songs perhaps, on paper, but they’re layered and recorded in a craftsman of flavor’s manner without the modern tricks of production (like digital processing or effects, reverse, pans, delay’s, etc). I guess that’s what I admire about Ward, and where his brilliance comes from, as a producer he’s found that tiny little niche between complexity and simplicity that’s hard to achieve so naturally.
Zooey Deschanel‘s starting to come into her own wonderfully as a writer and singer. I heard an interview on that Chicago-based NPR Sunday music show when She & Him’s first album came out… Apparently she’d been writing these songs on the sets of movies for only a couple years (it wasn’t like she’d been writing songs her whole life) before she hooked up with Ward. Those songs sound incredibly mature and beautifully crafted for a near first-timer. Double it on Volume Two. At least. Her voice (or voices, as her vox are good and layered throughout the album) sounds as if she’s lived a couple lives, and her writing reflects that also. The songs are mostly about heartbreak yes, but any signs of immaturity post-boyfriend/girlfriend dropped off the car long ago. In one track she repeats “I’m gonna make it get better” with such enthusiasm and a carefree nature, you’d swear she actually IS the character she played in  Days of Summer.
I guess that was the biggest surprise for me with this CD, the sense of hopefulness in the tracks despite almost all of the songs being about heartbreak. It certainly is “heavier” (I know, not even close to the right word) than Volume One. It swings faster, it’s more rhythmic and drum driven, and it makes no apologies. Nor for the influences, production or otherwise, or the heartbreaks the narrator’s (if you wanna call her that) detailing in such a nonchalant way. The lack of force to achieve that non-apologetic-ness in every way is what makes this album so likable. Natural as can be. That’s without a doubt a compliment.