Review Summary: Dressed up in burdensome reverb and deep-fried in 70's AM sentimentality, Volume One is an actor-turned-singer success story that is almost too nostalgic for it's own good.
If there is anything that has universally divided music-listeners, it would be undoubtedly the infamous actor-turned-musician fad. Deplorable specimen who royally shame the music industry by their ambitious endeavors (Hilary Duff
) are laughing matter to the majority of sane listeners, while moderately successful and debatably listenable exemplar (30 Seconds to Mars
) give vague and dimly lit hope for the embarrassing genre. Luckily, this is no William Shatner-like venture into euphonious territory -- Zooey Deschenal (Elf, Bridge to Terabithia
) and her manfriend Matt Ward churn out charming, nostalgic and almost irritatingly retro-vibed table tunes that sum up their quintessential summer album, Volume One.
The origins of She and Him are ambiguous and uncertain -- Matt Ward and Zooey Deschenal are summoned to record a song for the ending credits of her Sundance FIlm Festival The Go-Getter
, and find themselves tied together both artistically and musically. To make the story short, Ward discovers that Deschenal wrote her own material and is endlessly fraught with the thought of hearing it. While Deschenal is initially sheepish about her original material, she toughens up and gives Ward access to her songwriting. Turns out she's pretty good, and Ward wants to record them. Thus is the birth of She and Him. So, how well does such an innocent meeting of two musically inclined personnel translate into an album? Well...
quietly introduces the record with Deschanel's jazzy vocals, which are calmly accompanied by a pulsing piano and a succinct string section before bursting into a mid-tempo harmony-lead climax that ultimately serves it's purpose as the album's opener. It's at this point that the listener has been treated with the typical atmosphere of She and Him and has to make the painful decision: do I like this? To put it lightly, if you don't, the album won't get better for you. Volume One
is overflowing with sweet harmonies and superfluous melodies and if it's not your cup of tea, then I think you'd be better off drinking coffee.
Wistful tunes like the lead single Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?
bounce evocatively with dewy-eyes through bluesy scales and scattered vocal lines, with Deschanel's kittenish lyrics leading Ward's rascally country leads in and out of folk-tinged verses and extended harmonies. The production value of the reverb-soaked single effectively epitomizes the musical excursion that is Volume One
: a patchily mixed indie album that, depending to the listener, might have been better if it had it's twangy slide guitars and bouncy drums stripped from it, revealing the folksy-acoustic goodness that lays underneath. It's this factor that allows the execution of the hidden track Sweet Chariot
and the Smokey Robinson cover You Really Got a Hold On Me
really succeed -- their basic acoustic guitar and microphone atmosphere present a much more accessible sound than their tawdry country-tinted ditties.
Ward's guitars slide effortlessly and smoothly through serene songs such as Take It Back
and Black Hole
, with the latter easily being the strongest track on the record with it's winsome lyrics and bluesy chordal patterns, constructing a delightful plethora of titillating sounds and engaging melodies. Songs that convincingly portray a folk-country hybrid such as Got Me
and the tasteful I Was Made For You
exemplify the marriage between musical choreography and jubilation, in the holiest of matrimony.
Unfortunately, Volume One
is not without it's faults. Production and composition occasionally disturbs the euphoric-folksy atmosphere. In what would ultimately be one of the best songs on the album, This is Not a Test
is hampered beyond repair by a faux trumpet solo (i.e. faux pas
), which feels so out of place and convoluted, that it's a pain to listen to. Such perfect potential is ruined by mouth-made trumpet impersonations, and it's extremely disconcerting. Other disappointing elements consist of Volume One
's exaggerated attempts at being nostalgic: most songs come sopping wet in reverb, overwrought in overwhelming two part oooh's and ahhh's that harmoniously collide with peppy handclaps and troublingly twangy guitar leads. It's the infinitesimal quirks and peculiarities that keep She and Him's debut from being an immediate classic.
Zooey's voices sparkles animatedly throughout the album, effectively embodying the motif of the lyrics. Deschanel's lyrics are, for the lack of a better word, cute
, and align perfectly with the effervescent drumming and ebullient guitarwork, which is no better portrayed then in the aforementioned Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?
, which has her crooning enthusiastically "Why don't you come and play here, I'm just sitting on the shelf
," with tasteful falsettos and timeless execution. With spirited metaphors, honest confessions and strangely tolerable cliches tied to the bouncing piano and the casual strum of Ward's acoustic guitar, Deschanel's vocals and lyrics couldn't possibly be more well-suited.
For enthusiasts of the by-gone era of AM music, or the timid casual listener (aka me) taking their first shaky baby steps into the remote world of country, daunting as it is, She and Him's debut is delightful, engaging and frankly, frighteningly fun for such a mellow album. The missteps are so far and few between that they are eventually forgivable and forgettable. What I, upon my first listen, described as a 'quizzically hyper Feist,' has grown on me to unimaginable heights, and I can make the assumption that, if given the appropriate time, you'll find this album habituated perpetually in your CD player -- or your money back.