She & Him – Volume Two

Rating: ★★★☆☆

After a stunning debut that won over many a doubter, She & Him return for their second album, Volume Two.  You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t appreciate the first effort, at least to a certain degree, but would the yearning for a second helping of Zooey be nearly as fulfilling as the first run through?  Honestly, it’s probably equally as rewarding as the first record, but that gets lost in the fact that it doesn’t find the group really pushing any limits.

“Thieves” finds the duo transported to precisely the place where they left off, cashing in on our adoration for Motown girl-groups of the past or female country singers with lush orchestration.  While you can see that this was definitely mapped out a whole lot better, with Ward’s raspy whisper singing along during the chorus, it’s not too far removed from the last release, something that may trouble some listeners.

“In the Sun” displays Zooey’s vocal prowess.  Perhaps it’s not the most perfect voice of all time, but you’ll find it every bit as enchanting as you did the first time you heard her sing while watching Elf. However, it has to be M. Ward who steals the entire show here; his guitar work cutting in and out of the song definitely makes this a whole lot more memorable than some of the tracks you’ll hear this time around.

While the album opens with a more upbeat feeling, due mostly to predominantly featured piano, the warmer songs hold the bread and butter.  “Me and You” is probably the most simplistic song, yet the arrangement of the song, accompanied with slide guitar makes it extremely powerful.  She & Him back this up with “Going to Get Along Without You Now,” a song that definitely has a hint of playfulness to it, but Ward’s simple strumming holds the song in place, never letting it stray to far into the realms of kitsch.  Which is not how much of the latter half-of the album goes.

Perhaps the redundancy of the piano work here makes it all seem a bit too childish.  There’s not a lot of exploration on the keys, instead relying upon simple chord progression. While it was charming mixed in on Volume One, this time around it comes off as if the band has run out of ideas. You can contrast that with some of the simple guitar songs, like “Brand New Shoes,” which comes in near the end, and you can feel as if something just hits home with your heart when the piano is absent.

In the end, “If You Can’t Sleep” closes out the record, doing so in a bit of a different fashion.  The title definitely reflects the emotional appeal of the song, and the pacing, which makes perfect sense, as the band isn’t one to push boundaries too far.  All in all, Volume Two leaves you with the feeling that She & Him didn’t want to stray too far away from their original work.  That being said, a detractor here is that it doesn’t stray too far at all, and you get the feeling that this sits perfectly next to Volume One. It’s a pleasant enough listen, just one that isn’t nearly as exciting as the first time you heard Zoeey and Matt together.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/She-Him-In-the-Sun.mp3]

Download: She & Him – In the Sun [MP3]

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