Music Review: She & Him
She & Him – Volume One
Rating – 4/5
With Scarlett Johansson soon to launch herself into the musical arena, Zooey Deschanel moves to beat her to the punch in becoming the first doe-eyed indie chanteuse to make the leap from acting to music. The stardom factor is a different scale however and so any prejudice against Deschanel as singer will be unharmed by her comparative lack of fame within the filmic world. She’s played with the form previously, most recently and likely most pertinently with a short cameo towards the close of The Assassination of Jesse James when she serenades a bar of lost souls.
It may seem churlish and somewhat unfair to focus on Deschanel when the vision of the record in heavily effected by the work of M Ward, the Him of this collaboration, who creates an open and sympathetic canvas for Deschanel to paint upon. Ward gives her space to imprint onto the songs and her general aim seems to be to tap a vein of classic pop, both across girl-group shooping and downhome country-soul. The key touchstone record here, particularly vocally, is a sense of Jenny Lewis on her excellent Rabbit Fur Coat solo album on which she unleashed her inner Bobbie Gentry. Lewis’ voice is richer than Deschanel’s but the latter’s lighter, thinner cooing fits the atmosphere Ward creates.
The instrumentation is far from sparse but soul isn’t the aim. This falls closer to a country-pop oddity, employing an indie sensibility surrounded by country signifiers like slide guitar and half-tempo beats. What grounds it within the lighter genre though, along with Deschanel’s sweet voice, is the naïve, wide-eyed lyrics. ‘Sentimental Heart’ is a pleading, resignedly optimistic summation of a relationship end which instrumentally leans towards a psych-era Beatles feel. She does deliver a great opening line (‘I don’t like you/But I love you’) on ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’, another troubled relationship chronicle which avoids getting too heavy on the heartbreak and rather employs a detached comic sense as Deschanel begrudges her relationship.
‘I Was Made For You’ drives clean into girl-group territory, replete with Spector drumming, shooping harmonies and Deschanel coming closer to Supremes-era Diana Ross than anyone else. Ward and band back everything to frame facets of Deschanel’s voice, be it sweet, sexy or joyful and provide a platform on which she is able impress her own template for the future. It would be sad indeed if she left our acting world, but her starring presence on such a marvellous record bodes well.