She & Him
Photo: Chantal Anderson / Courtesy of The Oriel Company

She & Him Pay Tribute to the Sensitive Side of Brian Wilson

She & Him reveal the love and respect they have for the original material on Melt Away: A Tribute to Brian Wilson. These songs gently rock and soothe.

Melt Away: A Tribute to Brian Wilson
She & Him
Fantasy
5 August 2022

She & Him are back again. The duo of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward have recently released their sixth album in 14 years that pays tribute to the pop music of the 1960s. Their previous albums collected songs from different artists from the past who shared a common sensibility. This time the combo focuses on the work of just a single artist: the Beach BoysBrian Wilson. She & Him have covered the Beach Boys before, and they have even joined Wilson on one of his solo releases. He repays the favor here by adding new vocals to the pair’s “Do It Again” recording.

Melt Away: A Tribute to Brian Wilson is a strange record. Deschanel and Ward worked on the project separately because of the recent pandemic. On one level, it’s a subtle homage to Wilson’s genius as a songwriter and arranger with a delicate touch and sense of restraint. These are songs meant to be played in one’s room with the door shut and maybe even the lights off. The best moments feature Deschanel singing sweetly as if whispering quietly in your ear or M. Ward picking isolated notes that hang and linger in the air like aural snowflakes.

Consider the intimacy of such tracks as “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” and “Don’t Worry Baby”. These songs gently rock and soothe. They also contain tiny filigrees of sound that flow like lace over the end of melodies or the beginning of choruses. Such minor touches have an enormously positive impact. They reveal the love and respect the duo have for the original material.

Melt Away: A Tribute to Brian Wilson is clearly a labor of love. While the artists chose to rework some of Wilson’s biggest hits, such as “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “Darlin'”, and “Do “It Again”, most of the songs selected are relatively obscure, like the title cut “Melt Away”. The bulk of the cuts never made the charts, including “This Whole World”, Kiss Me Baby”, “Meant for You”, and “Heads You Win–Tails I Lose”. These are obscure songs from various points in Wilson’s career as a Beach Boy and a solo artist.

The unintentional irony here is that Wilson has always been interested in making hits as well as good music. His work has been characterized by his overt appeal to the masses. There is a reason why the Beach Boys once spent a record amount of money on producing a single (re: “Good Vibrations”). It was presumed sales would recoup the money. She & Him present Wilson as more of garret loving artist who toils in obscurity for the pleasure of the elite aesthete.

This ambiguity has always been at the root of Beach Boy fandom. Are they the good time band heralded by First Lady Nancy Reagan and others for their promise of fun, fun, fun, or the thoughtful surfer boys looking for the right words to express their deep feelings? Their fan base includes both types of listeners. She & Him tip the scales to reveal the sensitive side of Wilson. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” if they paid more attention to his pop sensibility? Maybe, if Melt Away: A Tribute to Brian Wilson was “Meant for You”. They will just have to “Do It Again”, but “Don’t Worry Baby”. There is plenty of good music here to keep one interested.

RATING 7 / 10
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