PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


She & Him: Volume One

Maura Walz

It's all great fun, but spending so much time flitting from one role to another seems to prevent Deschanel from finding her own voice, and together the band rarely transcends the cloak of their influences.

She & Him

Volume One

Label: Merge
US Release Date: 2008-03-18
UK Release Date: Available as import

It started with an inspired bit of musical matchmaking. In 2006, indie darling singer-songwriter M. Ward wrote the score for The Go-Getter, a road movie (set for release this June) starring, among others, indie darling actress Zooey Deschanel. The Go-Getter's director, Martin Hynes, suggested that Deschanel and Ward cover Richard and Linda Thompson's "When I Get to the Border" for the end credits of the film. Deschanel had already showed her vocal chops as part of her cabaret act If All the Stars Were Pretty Babies, and more famously by singing "Baby It's Cold Outside" alongside Will Ferrell in Elf. Ward is the guitarist, songwriter, and old-timey radio devotee who, on his four previous albums, has modernized the kind of country blues and jazz that sounds best coming out of an AM radio on your back porch on a muggy summer night. The two performers share a particular kind of throaty vocal timbre that sounds as if their voices might also have been channeled through that AM radio, or even through an old phonograph. While recording the track for the film, they discovered that they shared a similarly nostalgic musical sensibility overall, and soon the two were in the studio together recording songs that Deschanel had written in her spare time.

She and Him is the name the duo chose for their project, and Volume One is the deeply nostalgic fruit of their time in the studio. Deschanel and Ward have set out to create an homage to easy listening, country, and beach vibes extending from the 1940s to the early 1970s. It's fitting that an actress, in her first venture into songwriting, would play chameleon, trying on one songstress role after another. Here, she's Linda Ronstadt, as on the steel guitar-laced "Change is Hard"; there, she's standing by her man as Tammy Wynette on the country dance hall swinger "Got Me". Here, she's Betty Grable crooning on "Take It Back"; there, she's the Ronettes (or any other of a number of Phil Spector-produced groups), her voice looped over itself on tracks like "Sweet Darlin'" to produce a one-woman girl group.

Ward and the band he's assembled for the project (including multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis, drummer Rachel Blumberg, and violinist Tom Hagerman) take the cues, building the sonic worlds around the roles Deschanel invokes. The musicians add airy strings, slide guitar, banjo, plenty of rolling electric guitar and piano plunking, tambourine, and whistles to layer around Deschanel's brassy singing voice, and Deschanel herself contributes her ukulele skills to a few of the tracks. Even when Deschanel is singing of heartbreak and rain, the music is warm and sunny.

It's all great fun, but the problem with spending so much time flitting from one role to another is that it seems to prevent Deschanel from finding her own voice, and together the band rarely transcends the cloak of their influences. Too many of the songs are like photocopies, with some of the fidelity lost in the reproduction. The energy lost in the transfer is felt most on the covers, especially on a leaden rendition of Smokey Robinson's "You Really Got a Hold on Me". They fare better on a Beatles-via-a-beach-luau cover of "I Should Have Known Better", but even that track, like many of Deschanel's originals, lack that certain spark required to lift the tunes beyond mere pastiche. The closest they come to truly sounding simultaneously modern and out of time is on the up-beat "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?", which jolts energy into Deschanel's girl group choruses with rollicking guitar and piano lines and some thoroughly contemporary indie rock drumming.

But it's easy to forget, given Deschanel's profile as a well-respected, creative, and successful actress, that these songs are the work of a debut musician. It's reasonable to suspect that if Ward and Deschanel decide ever to produce a "Volume Two," and if Deschanel continues to spend her free time tinkering with her songwriting, that she could eventually find her voice and build on her influences, rather than just imitating them. In the meantime, any listener looking to spend a reverb-drenched summer on the beach revisiting the golden age of AM radio could do far worse than spending the season with She and Him.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.