Friday, 5 July 2013

Introduction to She & Him

My love for She & Him is no secret.  I’ve adored Zooey Deschanel since Elf and M. Ward since Monsters of Folk.  Deschanel’s voice reminds me of Nancy Sinatra. Although their music is nothing alike, the brilliant and seemingly effortless creativity of M. Ward’s arrangements is on par with Matt Johnson of The The!   In 2009, I watched them perform on TV with Elvis Costello, Jenny Lewis and Jakob Dylan and realized that they were not just talented but likeable, too.  As an actress, Deschanel is good but not so special that she couldn’t be replaced.  However, the combination of her vocals with M. Ward’s creative genius is perfect.

As I mentioned in my Summer 2013 Playlist, Volume One was the only album in my car in America for 4 summers straight and therefore I’m pretty sure I could recite the entire album by heart!  It’s a slow-paced mixture of 50s folk and 60s pop, creating an altogether polished sound, but leaving room to musically evolve and experiment.  The pop influence that Deschanel adds is demonstrated in the carefree melodies and the (bordering on cheesy) lyrics.  The standout tracks here are “Change is Hard”, “I Was Made For You” and “I Thought I Saw Your Face Today”.

Volume Two evolved their sound without losing any of what made them special in Volume One.  Each song remains deceptively simple, yet catchy.  Now, I think you can make of this what you will.  Some critics would argue that the album is a miss due to She & Him’s inability to dramatically evolve or take musical risks, such as branching out into a different genre.  However, I think that the clear boost of confidence in Deschanel’s voice after their debut albums success and the effect it has results in a huge evolution in sound.   Moreover, that’s not really what She & Him seems to be about.  They aren’t trying to break musical boundaries or change music, as we know it.  They’re two friends who like to play music together and happen to sound really great doing it.

But I digress.  The album begins with the heart-breakingly beautiful “Thieves”, which is the best track on the album.  I won’t get too analytical but this song seems to be about a difficult relationship, with the “thieves” being the thoughts and feelings the narrator is having that are pushing them apart.  This is followed by “In the Sun”, which seems to discuss a lull in a relationship that’s becoming more than a lull.  She makes her affection for the person clear by repeating "My baby, My Darling", but keeps her feels of wanting to leave – or “get the slip” – to herself.  The other standout tracks here are the cover of NRBQ’s “Ridin’ in my Car”, the childish but endearing “Lingering Still” and “I’m Gonna Make It Better”.

In early may of this year, Volume Three was released.  It was actually released the day of my Statistics exam, rendering it the perfect reward after nearly a month of revision being finished!  For me, with most of the “catchy” Top 40 songs today, after a few listens I can’t bear to hear the chorus again.   This album features a huge selection of catchy songs that still haven’t reached that point of unbearability (if that makes any sense!).  “Never Wanted Your Love” is the obvious single here.  This, and “I’ve Got Your Number Son” demonstrate Deschanel’s songwriting at its finest.  I’ve said this before, but I really love when bands combine deadpan depressing or heart-broken lyrics with deceivingly upbeat melodies.  With Volume Two’s release in 2010, this is the first original album that Deschanel has released since her divorce in 2011.  If you keep that in mind while listening to the album, you’ll definitely make the connection.
Having lived in London for nearly 6 years now, any song about the city hits a cord with me.  “London” features purely Zooey and a piano.  If all the ballads on the album had been more like this, this album would have been a 10 out of 10 for me.  Listen to “Snow Queen” before listening to “London” and you’ll see how vast the difference is! 

Something that I’ve always really liked about She & Him is the anonymity of their moniker.  Prior to their formation, both Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward were already established public figures.  Therefore, they could have easily garnered a lot of public attention immediately had they called themselves some play on their names.  Rather, they chose to use literally the most generic name possible.  This should give you a good idea of the type of music you’re in for - if you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past 4 years and still haven’t heard She & Him!

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