Tuesday, December 2, 2008

She and Him - Volume One

She and Him
Volume One
(03.2008, Merge)
Verdict: Just because M. Ward produced it doesn't mean it sounds anything like his music.

Actress Zooey Deschanel enters a musical venture with notable singer/songwriter M. Ward as her producer/collaborator. Upon listening to this album, I was unaware of the surge of alt-country within the independent music scene, so when I heard twangy guitar and a sultry drawl surfacing in her vocals I was a bit confused. Volume One comes across as a stylized album intended to replicate the feel of Dolly Parton-eque country, although it also ping-pongs between a style that emulates sixties girl-pop groups and also the later music of Carpenters. It has everything you could ask for (and I'm sure you would) from chorus girls to handclaps to male/female vocal call-and-response. The album starts out with "Sentimental Heart," and although it is a definite contrast from the rest of the album, it segues into the next song perfectly. I think it's because of the simplicity of "Sentimental Heart" that I was confused when the album changed to something resembling a composite of warm country and sixties pop. The guitars wade in and out of most of the songs, and the lyrics stick to a strict sappy love song agenda, using phrases such as "if he burns you let him go," "don't try to woo me" and "you really got a hold on me." The song that is the best combination of sixties pop and seventies country is "I Was Made For You," the album's seventh track, as it has chorus girls, a heavy bass line supported by the poppy drum beat, and bouncy keys. The album closes with the song "Untitled" which is Zooey singing her own version of "Swing Lo, Sweet Chariot." I think this song best highlights her vocal abilities, as she more fully delves into lower vocal tones, which brings up the notch of her sex appeal more significantly than anything else in the album. M. Ward deserves props for producing a successful pop album, the type that constantly gets stuck in your head and you really want to dance to, so you almost can't help but like it. When listening comparatively to the production quality between his solo work and She and Him, it's similar to what M. Ward puts out on his own albums, with vocals pulled in front of everything else, but meshed well enough that it is totally cohesive. Despite not quite grasping the album the first time I listened to it, I ended up somewhat addicted to it, and, for lack of a better phrase, wanting more. Basically if you want to put Dolly Parton, Diana Ross and Karen Carpenter in a blender to listen to, She and Him is it.

-Fastidious Fungi

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