Monday, June 3, 2013

She & Him Volume 3 - She & Him (Album)

In doing my research for this week's post, I learned a little about Matt Ward: There is always something interesting going on to his right.

She & Him is the stage name of musical duo Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward; perhaps you've heard of them. I was a fan of both celebrities before they formed this group, and I remember being surprised when I first found out they had teamed up. I liked Deschanel because I thought she was pretty (although that attractiveness lessened severely with each new terrible film she was in), and I was basically in love with Ward (artistically speaking, of course) for his inspired albums. Maybe one day we'll look at Hold Time on here, which (interestingly or otherwise) also features Deschanel. What I'm trying to say is, I've been a fan of She & Him since their first album. Really I could have done any and all of them.

Am I right?

I hate to say this, but I just can't get behind Deschanel as an actress. Not that she isn't capable, but her talents are largely wasted. She's in too many shallow and dumb-A movies/TV shows. You can disagree with me if you like, but I figure if you're reading this blog you are entitled to my opinion. I was pleased to find that I could stand behind her 100% as a song writer though. Aside from the covers, she writes all of the She & Him songs, and I think they're top notch. Ranging from catchy and fun (I Could Have Been Your Girl) to having real depth (London, Take it Back.)

Or am I right?

I'm reviewing only the third album, however, because I believe it is the most fully realized of the set. The songs are likable, but you may notice upon first listening that they sound a little off kilter or even lackluster. This is because--unlike so much of the music that comes out today--this album is not "tuned" for modern ears. A lot of albums that come out these days jump on on the bandwagon of "right now" engineering. This has a few effects: 1) it causes new music to sound "preferable" to many people, and 2) it makes that same music eventually sound dated*, sometimes in as little as five or six years. She and Him Volume 3 is something of a revolution against this idea. This is not an album written for today, or (possibly even worse) for tomorrow; this is an album written to be timeless. There is an effortless quality to the singing which may sound to some listeners like Deschanel lacks energy. Please see this as a deliberate stylistic choice, meant to allow the song to breathe and live for itself. It is art like a painting or a fine poem, not merely a performance of music.


Now, I know what some of you are thinking: it does sound dated, but maybe in a good way. Is that possible? What you probably mean is that these songs harken back to a "classic" era of music, namely the acoustic pop songs of the late fifties to early seventies, and of course you'd be correct. But the influence of these songs is not so much what I'm talking about. What I mean is more subtle, and will probably only interest people who pay close attention to how albums are recorded, and not only the structure of the songs, the lyrics, and the vocal style. Not everyone realizes how big a difference a recording style can make. The percussion, the rhythm and lead guitars, the vocals, bass, keyboards, everything that's in a song--all these things have been recorded in certain tones and timbers. In high budget recordings (meaning basically everything that's not a demo or made by a local band) these tones can be laboriously engineered, agonized over even. They are as much a part of the sound as anything else. Consider, for example, the difference between this and this. These are both songs that start with power chords, which in theory should sound pretty much the same since they are just fifths, but they clearly sound quite different. Obviously there's other stuff going on here--the riffs are very different--but the tone is a big part of what you are hearing.

Right right**!

This is why I've chosen Volume 3 over either of the others, or all three in general. This album speaks to the best of my recording sensibilities. I know that tone is something Ward considers to be vital to a good recording, and that's clear here. I could provide copious examples track by track, but I won't. Just listen to the horns in Together and maybe you'll start to get my drift. The album isn't trying to pandering to the 2013 you, instead the album wants the real you to try to get to know it better, even if maybe right at first you kind of don't want to.

Or, if you require another simile, it is like a very hot hot tub. You know it's going to be good, but it takes some easing into. I'd take that over an album that feels good at first, but leaves me chattering my teeth ten minutes later, just wanting to get out and towel off.  Man, I don't know where that analogy came from but am I good or what?

-MA 6.3.2013

*For a wonderful example of how this trend can make even the most respectable artists sound like dog crap, see Leonard Cohen's "Closing Time." Throw a chair!

**Needle-nose Ned, Ned the Head, c'mon buddy! Case Western High!

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