Volume Two is the second album from intriguing folk-pop duo She and Him. Some may be aware that they are movie star Zooey Deschanel and folk musician M Ward, who is decidedly lesser-known by comparison but has a similarly devoted indie following.
One might think that the more experienced M Ward would be the writer of the outfit, with his bandmate simply lending her voice. In actual fact, Miss Deschanel penned all but two of the album's tracks. She certainly has many strings to her bow, and the calibre of the music is attested by its high critical acclaim.
Much of the credit must go to Ward though. His genius production brings the songs to life, pairing soaring strings with dreamy guitar, bold bass with chirpy piano. The wall of sound he creates does real justice to the technique, which would make Spector and Wilson proud.
Zooey's voice is at once fragile and utterly worldly-wise. She sings of conquering heartbreak with no apparent care for the past, but with the softest wisp of vocals as though she might break down if you offered her your shoulder. This duality is what makes her so absorbing to listen to; she is something of an enigma, a fact underscored by her ambiguous but endearing drawl which is difficult to place. Having said that, it is also a voice which can only dream of being as powerful as the Ronnie Spectors and Darlene Loves it aspires to.
Stand-out track 'Gonna Get Along Without You Now' has the most unforgettable of verses, with an amusingly self-satisfied tone which indicates that a certain ex out there must be kicking himself. This track best exemplifies the vocal layering heard throughout the album, which sounds so sweet with Zooey's dulcet tones crooning their "mm-hmm"s and "ah-ha"s.
'Thieves' is a sweeping, epic 60s-style ballad which is effortlessly grandiose in comparison with the other more restrained material. Zooey's voice is at its best on this soaring ode to love lost.
'If You Can't Sleep' is a sublime orchestral affair with a continuous mellow humming, which could lull the most hardened of listeners into a blissful reverie. The country influences on the divine 'Me and You'; the deceptively twee folk ditty 'Brand New Shoes; the Californian soft-rock of the more vocally collaborative 'Ridin' in My Car'.
They are all indicative of the eclectic sources of inspiration for She and Him, which might otherwise seem they were like flitting thoughtlessly between styles just to score points with a wider audience. But the tracks actually blend together seamlessly due to their understated subtlety and the accomplished musicianship behind them.