She & Him

Volume Two

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Merge Records

She & Him’s sophomore effort may have one of the most apt titles for an album ever- Volume Two picks up exactly where the duo of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward left off on Volume One. If I didn’t know better, I could even easily believe that the resulting 13 tracks came from the same recording sessions. Even the formula for the lead single, “In The Sun-” sweet vocals, a bouncy pop melody and a reverbed guitar solo from Ward (not to mention an almost inhumanly adorable promotional video), directly reflects “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” But if any of that sounds like criticism, it’s not. Volume Two is a dose of pop confectionary, as lightweight and simply fun as it is unpretentious. It’s not world-changing, but neither is it meant to be.

“Thieves” starts the album with strummed acoustic guitars and Deschanel crooning, “And I know, and you know too/ That love like ours is terrible news.” It’s a gentle song, lightly inflected by pop country, only a few generations removed from the likes of Nicolette Larson. It’s almost a little too mellow (even for She & Him), but fortunately, the aforementioned single immediately follows. “In The Sun” is catchy as hell, the kind of infectious song that could start a twee dance party or score an indie flick (which it probably will someday). A simple piano riff anchors a heavily backed-up chorus and an eventual solo by Ward grows by frantic intensity with every second; it’s the duo at their best, and if the album doesn’t quite match it again, it’s clear why they put it front and center.

“Don’t Look Back” mines the kind of ’60s girl-group beats and multi-tracked vocals that Deschanel is so enamored of to great effect, but also unfortunately opens with a lyrical clunker like, “Orpheus melted the heart of Persephone/ But I never had yours.” “Ridin’ In My Car,” one of two covers on the album (a Skeeter Davis number being the other) pushes the summery feeling of Volume Two to its breeziest, highlighting the youthful exuberance of the NRBQ song. One of the few weaknesses of Volume One was the flimsiness of its latter tracks, but the sequel proves stronger in that respect. While the Vince Guaraldi piano of “Home” or the country strum of “Brand New Shoes” can’t match up to “In The Sun,” it’s all undeniably pleasant and tuneful. Only the nearly acapella closer “If You Can’t Sleep” becomes dull, succumbing the lethargy of the subject matter. It may be a lullaby, but doesn’t mean it should be so sleepy itself.

Volume Two won’t set anyone’s heart on fire, but it’s the kind of album you could play to anyone, without ever seeming manufactured or insincere. It’s pop music, plain and simple, not meant to be overly deep or thoughtful. And sometimes, when the sun’s out and you just want something fun and easy, it’ll be there.

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