Prompted by a new MySpace “Artist on Artist” segment, I just checked out Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward’s (relatively) new album, She and Him: Volume One. Expectations were high–I am a fan of Deschanel’s voice, and I enjoyed Ward’s albums Post-War(2006) and Transfiguration of Vincent (2003).
I was a little bit disappointed, but only a little bit. Volume One was pleasant enough to listen to, but often in that Sunshine-Lollipops-and-Rainbows kind of way. In fact, there are places on the album where Deschanel is a dead ringer for Lesley Gore, particularly in the tracks with heavy backup vocals (provided by Deschanel herself) like “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” and “I Was Made for You.” In general, her voice is immensely appealing.
The tracks I liked the best were those that added a little Patsy Cline-esque pathos to the mix, enhanced by M. Ward’s slide guitar. “Change is Hard” and “Take it Back” both have this sad, country sound that contrasts nicely with the Ronettes-style numbers. Ward’s accompaniment lends emotional and acoustic depth not only in these bluesy songs, but throughout the CD; kudos also to the rest of the band.
Deschanel does her 60’s influences proud, including a couple of nice covers (“I Shoulda Known Better” and “You Really Got a Hold On Me”), but I prefer my retro served up with a modern twist. I kept waiting for the new, the unexpected, maybe something a little funky. There were many moments that came close–in particular, the slow-tempo rendition of “I Shoulda Known Better” with slide guitar. A few of the tracks, like “Sweet Darlin’” and “I Thought I Saw Your Face Today” had interesting instrumental bridge sections.
The music video for “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” is dark and twisted, with cartoon violence and black humor that plays off of the bubblegum pop sound. I liked the idea. However, this sense of irony doesn’t come across without the visuals, which is part of what I missed on the album.
The other element I felt was missing was backup vocals by Ward. There are a few places on Volume One where he sings: “Shoulda Kown” and “You Really Got a Hold On Me,” and briefly in “Change is Hard.” His dark, dusty voice is an interesting counterpart to the very bright, pure quality of Deschanel’s. While Deschenel’s self-harmonizations are well done, I would be interested to hear more of what the two of them can do together vocally. I suspect there is much more depth of sound possible than what we hear on this album.
All in all, not bad for a debut. I’ll be interested to see where they go from here.