She & Him

B+

She & Him

Album: Volume Two
Label: Merge

Actress and M. Ward collaborator Zooey Deschanel never even tries to pretend she has trouble snagging boyfriends, not that she’d be convincing if she did. The trouble, Deschanel sings in song after song, comes from an inequality of affection: Some guy says he likes her, but he sure has a funny way of showing it. Deschanel summed up the situation brilliantly with a doll-on-shelf metaphor on “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?”, the breakout track from 2008’s Volume One. On Volume Two, she tells that tale again—and again, and again.

That’s fine, though. She & Him is less a songwriting project than a sound-making project. Or more accurately, a sound-reclamation project. Ward and Deschanel act as though pop music ended in the early 1970s, so their only option is to tinker until they create the most golden-oldies record ever made. And save for the occasional song seemingly arranged by rote, Volume Two delivers the expected sweetness, but on a grander scale than the duo’s debut. Ward is increasingly enamored of orchestration and the magic of the studio, to the extent that even the a cappella closer, “If You Can’t Sleep,” sounds fastidiously fiddled-with. But the songs still subsist on Deschanel’s melodies and brassy-voiced magnetism: On the best tracks, there’s no question that Deschanel, even when miffed at some dude, sings through a smile.