From what I can garner from IMDB, and depending on your tastes, Zooey Deschanel’s best movie is either The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Almost Famous. Might your opinions of Ms. Deschanel’s cinematic output determine your expectations of her musical abilities? It might, but again, depending on your taste, you might be selling the lass short.
She & Him is Zooey Deschanel (she’s the She) and Portland, Oregon’s own M. Ward (yes, world, better musicians than Everclear come from Portland: namely M. Ward, the Decemberists, The Thermals, and Menomena). Volume One is, as the title suggests, their first collection of songs together. I, for one, hope it is not their last.
M. Ward’s music is pretty old school to begin with so it’s not entirely surprising that She & Him sounds like it belongs in the record collection of the hippest Boomer you know. In fact, you could probably throw this on at the next family reunion and not alienate anyone (although, in all honesty, no self-respecting music snob is going to put something this tolerable on when that fantasy moment arrives, that great moment when Mom makes the mistake of saying, “Why don’t you put one of your albums on, honey?” My family knows not to make this mistake because they probably understand that would mean being force-fed Bone Machine, London Calling, or Daydream Nation.).
Zooey Deschanel wrote ten of the songs on this album (there are three covers, including album closer “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” which was written by God or someone, I’m not sure), despite the fact that they sound like 70’s country tunes, and Mr. Ward (he’s the him, in case you’re high right now) produced the thing, and the dude knows how to bring out the best of Deschanel’s voice which is both lovely and unique. When she’s lovelorn, which she is often on Volume One, she really breaks your heart. When she sings, on “Change is Hard,” “I can try/ I can try/ to toughen up,” you know – you know! – she’s not getting any tougher and, frankly, neither are you.
And so it goes, throughout Volume One, a truly lovely listen from start to finish. Ward’s arrangements fit Deschanel’s voice and lyrics to a tee. The first time through the record, you might be tempted to dismiss it: it’s a quick trip, but is it that great? The answer’s yes. As with Destroyer’s Trouble in Dreams, She & Him’s (She & His???) debut is one of those albums to crank up on a lazy summer evening (we get those 11 1/2 months out of the year in Los Angeles, which is why we have no perspective here) when you’ve got a bottle of wine that needs killing. You could share the wine with a friend, although Deschanel and Ward have crafted a pretty good Lonely Persons album here. In any case, it’s a beautiful record and a real accomplishment – a lot of bands make albums that are obvious homages to the music that they love. At its best, this tendency results in things like She & Him’s Volume One and anything by Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings. At its worst, this tendency gives you things like the Brian Setzer Orchestra (who obviously love swing) and The Raconteurs (who obviously love Foreigner). Obviously, Volume Two, should it ever come out (please Jeebus!), can’t be a carbon copy of Volume One, but Volume One establishes Deschanel as a capable songwriter and a truly wonderful singer. For the next outing, I want more duets. Ward’s old-school warble would sound great next to Deschanel’s husky, warm lilt. Still and all, She & Him have crafted somethin’ special here and you Lonely Persons and Happy Couples alike ought to be listening to it right now. Preferably on a record player. Does anyone still have one of those? Can I have it?