She & Him - Volume One
Anyone who is unfamiliar with Zooey Deschanel will probably have seen her running a lot in the trailer for recent M. Night Shyamalan popcorn fodder The Happening. It has received bad reviews across the board but, as a character actress who tends to pop up as 'best friend' or 'droll sidekick', it's just a drop in the ocean for Deschanel. One other such drop is her partnership with singer/songwriter and producer M. Ward, who has had a hand in albums by Bright Eyes and Norah Jones and, as the 'Him' to Deschanel's 'She', has here added to his own CV. I would be surprised if they receive a single negative review upon the release of debut, Volume One.
The story goes that, upon meeting for a movie soundtrack project, Deschanel hit it off with Ward to such an extent that she let slip a secret she had previously kept close to her chest: she wrote her own songs, which she recorded alone at home on her computer. Taking his cue from a shared love of old records, Ward has brought the demos to life on an endlessly charming album that pitches Deschanel front and centre as a throwback frontwoman a la solo Jenny Lewis (another artist Ward worked with on Rabbit Fur Coat, an album this shares many qualities with). Whether channeling 60s girl groups on Why Do You Let Me Stay Here and, more specifically, Ronnie Spector on the lost classic I Was Made For You or slowing it down and riffing on the sultry female crooners of the era on Change Is Hard and Take It Back, Deschanel effortlessly picks up the baton passed on by Duffy and Winehouse. The entire 'volume' is coated in a warm golden sheen last heard on classic analog recordings, and makes no apologies for embracing a time when Timbaland most certainly didn't exist.
The Beatles did, though, and the pair tackle a cover of the Fab Four's I Should Have Known Better, as well as a take on Smokey Robinson's You Really Got a Hold On Me which, incidentally, the Beatles covered. Opener Sentimental Heart is an obvious nod to this specific influence, as is the impossibly lovely piano-led I Thought I Saw Your Face Today. Lines like 'I couldn't help but fall in love again' are saccharine but forgivable when you yourself won't be able to help falling for this record. By the time the Phil Spector tribute Sweet Darlin' (co-written by Deschanel's actor pal, and Max Fischer himself, Jason Schwartzman) comes around, you'll be longing to hear Volume Two.