If you happen to be a music nerd, an avid nostalgic and a straight male, it’s getting kind of impossible not to have a celebrity crush on Zooey Deschanel. Her retro charm and her role in ‘(500) Days of Summer” would be enough to ensure that she represents the ideal girl who adores sad British music, loves looking through used vinyl racks, profoundly changes the lives of cultured loners and, essentially, would never actually exist in the real world.
But more impressively, Deschanel has completely defied the old actor-as-failed-musician stereotype with She ‘ Him, her collaboration with producer and multi-instrumentalist M. Ward. Their first album, 2008’s ‘Volume One,” was more than one indie hero enlisting another to have a go at the whole album making thing. Even if the whole album was delectable in a predictable manner, Deschanel and company seemed grounded and confident, and it was clear that this band was a delight to be taken seriously.
‘Volume Two” is enjoyable in pretty much the same exact way it’s all light, summery cheerfulness but everything is noticeably stronger. The awkward country twang has been restrained, the cover songs are less obvious and better suited for the band’s persona and the sugar isn’t so incessant that you feel like crashing. Meanwhile, the songs here are more ornate and streamlined they don’t feel like amiable novelties, but rather like solidly constructed pop songs written by a natural talent.
With the exception of ‘Ridin’ In My Car,” a duet with Ward and ‘Gonna Get Along Without You Now,” a cutesy take on a ’50s standard, Deschanel wrote every song herself.
Highlights like ‘Don’t Look Back,” ‘Over It Over Again” and ‘Lingering Still” are old-fashioned pop augmented by lush string arrangements, call-and-response harmonies and the fervor of a devoted nostalgic who lovingly retreads the styles she adores.
Deschanel has perfected the persona of a dainty but determined band leader she offers smooth wisdoms about unrequited and damaged love, but never oversells any of it or loses any of her perkiness. Even when singing a line like, ‘You ran around with every girl in town and didn’t care if it got me down,” she sounds like she’s having the best day of her summer.
She’s lowered her range and works better within it now no more jabbing high notes, thank God, but her charisma is her true virtue as a singer.
Actually, Deschanel’s charisma is what really carries She ‘ Him. She’s playing her usual lovable role in this band, and could perhaps get more intimate. A few of the less cheery songs on ‘Volume Two” seem to hint at that progression, especially the a cappella lullaby ‘If You Can’t Sleep,” where Deschanel comforts a far-away love with a voice that sounds like it’s beamed in your subconscious.
On future volumes of She ‘ Him, it would be interesting for Deschanel to use the band as a vehicle for expression more personal than her other great talent.
But for now, She ‘ Him remain irresistible the impassioned and unironic take they have on their vintage sound keeps them sounding fresh. They’re not onto anything new, but music this stubbornly joyous is always rare. ‘Volume Two” is an album of simple pleasures that sound like no small feat.
Silverstein is a member ofthe class of 2013.