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]

Top 40 Songs Of The Year

So when we thought making an albums of the year post was hard, this one proved to be even harder.  How do you take literally thousands of songs and narrow it down to the best 40 of the year?  Not too sure how to answer that question, but we tried.  Each of these songs scream 2008 in our ears.  As evident by this list, the year in music was quite a good one and we had some tough choices to make.  We’ve got some of the songs streaming for you or links to the song on youtube.  Follow the jump to see if your favorite tune of the year made the list.

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Albums Of The Year: 30-16

The year of 2008 is winding to a close, so it’s only appropriate that we wrap it up with our year-end albums list. We don’t expect many to necessarily agree with our list, but we worked really hard to make sure we had what we thought were the best thirty albums of the year. These are the records that spun over and over again in our heads and stereos, so this list is dedicated to their longevity in 2008.  We’ve conveniently broken it down into two segments, with albums 30-16 after the jump. Read more

The Dutchess and the Duke – She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke

Rating: ★★★★½

Before giving in to a dear friend’s suggestion, I hadn’t heard much about The Dutchess and the Duke.  Sometimes a lack of knowledge is precisely what you need to come across a brand new album with open arms, awaiting the approach of greatness.  Thanks Corey.

Here is some background information, though limited.  The band hails from Seattle, although they resemble very little of that signature sound.  Currently, they are touring our nation in support of Fleet Foxes.  Apparently, they’ve been friends for a long time.  That’s about all I’ve come across.

The opening “Reservoir Park” immediately brings to mind the Rolling Stones, which isn’t a bad place to start off an album.  The chorus, with dual harmonies, is absolutely perfect.  I believe that this song is going to be in my Top 5 Singles of the year.  I’ve placed it their already.

After opening appropriately, they switch it up–they go off sounding more like a product of Nashville or Louisville, filled with American traditional country pop goodness. The interplay between Jesse Lortz and Kimberly Morrison on the following songs is precisely what makes this so special. I feel like it’s everything that She and Him were built up to be, but here it’s much more real–much more authentic.

“Strangers” has them returning to that Stones flavor.  It’s everything you want in a song, with both singers harmonizing the whole way through the song.  There isn’t a bad thing to say here.  And they follow that up with “Back to Me,” a song about trying to recapture that great love of your life.  Sure, its cliche, but the earnestness wins you over.

And all of a sudden, they bust out the ghost, well soul really, of Bob Dylan.  “Mary” is the perfect song at this moment because it switches the sound, though not too much.  The band maintains their personality here, keeping the album interesting.  This band has an arsenal of classic musicians to reference, but never once does it feel as if they faked it.

The album closes with “Armageddon Song,” which, for me, is the exact ending I wanted to this album.  It’s an acoustic affair full of harmonies and whistling–its the song where they seem as if they’ve completely shed their influences, just to let you in closer to themselves.

Despite wearing their heroes on their sleeves, The Dutchess and the Duke have created a wonderful debut album; this is one that is sure to hold up as one of your favorites for a long time to come.  Don’t take my word on it; please please please listen.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/01-reservoir-park.mp3]

Download: reservoir_park.mp3