She & Him: Volume 2

Artist: She & Him

Title: Volume 2
Release date: March 23
Label: Merge

My editor has claimed this project a triumph for no other reason than I've chosen the new over the old -- sort of. See, I told Martin Cizmar a while back that I wanted to review tonight's Ray Davies concert. I love the Kinks. They're one of my all-time favorite bands and I've never seen the Davies perform in person.

But about two weeks ago, I told Martin that I didn't want to go Ray Davies anymore because I'd rather go see Pierced Arrows tonight at the Sail Inn. Martin was astounded that I'd chosen a "new" band (P.A.'s core members are actually older than the Kinks frontman) over hearing a rock 'n' roll dinosaur sing "Waterloo Sunset" for the billionth time. He declared the decision a major breakthrough for me.
There may have been a couple of factors in my decision, but no one needs to tell Martin that. Actually, he may be correct, to some extent. Because in the past, I might've said, "No way. I'm not missing Ray Davies." Anyway, if you go to see Ray tonight, let me know tomorrow about the show, k?

It hasn't happened often so far this year, but it happened with today's entry in the Nothing Not New canon. I really expected the 43 minutes it would take to listen to the new She & Him record to be full of wincing and eye-rolling on my part. I was wrong. It's 43 minutes of some of the most likable music I've heard this year.

In case you didn't know, She & Him is the collaboration between indie-music star M. Ward and actress Zooey Deschanel, who has a made career out of playing Manic Pixie Dream Girls. New Times contributor Craig Outhier made a pretty compelling case for her viability as a musical act. Still, I expected this musical project to be an extension of her typically annoying onscreen persona. But for the most part, it's not.

The best part about it? It's not indie pop. To call it that would be an insult. It's pure pop. You know, the kind of pop that now people like. It's got real melodies, real songcraft, real structure, and is a real good time. 

She & Him is a latter-day Captain & Tennille or Carpenters (and I mean that in a good way). I'm not saying Deschanel is as good a singer as either Toni Tennille or Karen Carpenter. She's not, but I do like her voice, and it has that sunny, 1970s lite-rock quality. It's remarkably unaffected, as so many indie-rock singers' voices are.

M. Ward is clearly having the time of his life writing, arranging, performing, and producing these songs. I dig his strong grasp of 1970s California folk-pop and country-pop. And She & Him is no wink-and-a-nudge exercise in musical irony. It's earnestly but seemingly effortlessly put together. I look forward to Volume 3.

Best song: "In the Sun" and "Home." But most of the songs are good.
Rotation: Heavy
Deja vu: Well-dressed white people smiling and lip-synching happy songs on any given 1970s TV variety show.
I'd rather listen to: Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra
Grade: A-

Wanna hear some of the music I've been listening to this year? Check out the first Nothing Not New podcast.

"Nothing Not New" is a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 40-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.

The "Nothing Not New" Archives

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