She & Him are not a band willing to live by clichés. By all means, the first collaboration between a guitar-wielding bluesman and a Hollywood starlet should be equal parts dull and self-indulgent. Volume One breaks the formula effortlessly from the heartbreaking opening vocals by actress Zooey Deschanel, one half of a team completed by M. Ward. The key is the wide range of influences audible in every track – there is as much room on Volume One for the softer side of Motown as there is for the livelier side of Les Paul and Mary Ford. ‘Why Do You Let Me Stay Here’ takes its leaf out of the latter’s book, a charming and energetic track in which one can hear every ounce of joy that the band have squeezed out of putting together their album.
The album sounds entirely seasonal without ever attaching itself to any one time of the year. In the summer, it feels like a summer album – the slower songs a soundtrack to warm August afternoons walking through the long grass with a picnic basket on one arm and a lover on the other. M. Ward’s guitar twangs sunny warmth through every track, especially present in ‘Black Hole’ and the thoroughly-country ‘Got Me’. Equally, few albums sound as good through impractically-sized headphones in front of the fire on a cold winter night, the stunning ‘Change Is Hard’ sounding particularly sad when accompanied by a warm beverage in a big, chunky mug.
Volume One is almost a fallacy then, in its ability to be both incredible wide in both sounds and influences whilst retaining a solidity more definitive than most other albums manage. Every song from beginning to end feels part of a whole, and equally as if it was made to stand-alone. Perhaps this is the real triumph of She & Him – that they have created an album as wonderful to listen as a whole as it is to delve into, like the thirteen track treasure trove that it is.
Words: Stephen Thomas