Our friends over at NPR seem to always have the heads up on new albums and this week is no different. M. Ward’s highly anticipated A Wasteland Companion is due out April 10th, but you can give the whole thing a spin right here. After just one listen it’s clear that this is the Ward we have come to know and love – melodic, grim at times, and always smooth, I’ll be giving this one another spin for sure. As if that wasn’t enough NPR is also streaming Of Monsters and Men’s debut album My Head is An Animal here. Having only heard one of their tunes before I didn’t have a lot of preconceived notions, but this Icelandic band is onto something for sure. With a joyful sound that’s a little bit The Head and the Heart meets Fleet Foxes, this one just might win you over as well. Happy listening.
Last night She & Him brought their sunshine pop to Late Night with David Letterman, performing the first single “In the Sun” off of Volume 2. Before last night, I had actually never seen these two do anything live, and was curious as to how they would replicate the sound off the album. From the looks of this video, they have it all figured out. Zooey looks pretty nervous (just adding to the cute factor) but turn’s in a solid vocal, and M. Ward is cool as a cucumber per the usual. One more observation, they really hit a home run on the album cover, it looks great in the big vinyl format!
We all know the story of She & Him, an impossibly adorable actress with a 50’s throwback vibe (Zooey Deschanel/She) and an indie gentleman with tremendous scene cred (M. Ward/Him) meet, fall in love and create beautiful music together. OK, so maybe I editorialized slightly there since their relationship is strictly business, but seriously we haven’t seen a pairing like this since The Princess Bride went tumbling down the hill after the man in black. Their sophomore effort is met with serious anticipation and high hopes for the once obscure “I never heard of them” indie band gone practically global. Write ups in supermarket magazines such as Entertainment Weekly completely blew their underground status, but don’t be fooled because this twosome has stayed true to the sound that made people fall in love with them on their first album two years ago.
Volume Two starts strong with the two singles released several weeks ago; a lamenting 50’s inspired “Thieves,” and an upbeat singalong “In the Sun.” Then we move along to the it-fits-so-good-you’d-never-know-it-was-a-cover-song “Riding in My Car,” which must have NRBQ scratching their heads as to why this song was never a big success for them. The hits keep coming with “Lingering Still,” “Home” and “Over It Over Again,” that all show the twosome gaining confidence and adding more harmonies than the first album. Some might find all the back up vocals and extra bells and whistles they use this time a bit distracting, but that’s probably because the melodies are so catchy that they don’t seem to need extra flair. The album does slow down a bit with a few forgettable songs like “Me and You,” “Brand New Shoes” and the a cappella “If You Can’t Sleep” (which lives up to it’s name), but in the context of the album they provide a needed rest from the retro inspired pop songs. Zooey’s voice may become a bit TOO sweet at times and using lyrics like “sock it to ya” might send some listeners into sugar shock but it never feels phony so she gets away with it.
All and all a great second effort from a band that started as a small side project and although they were probably feeling the pressure after such a successful first album, they never let you see them sweat. In the end Volume Two mixes Zooey’s uber-sweet vocals and M. Ward’s guitar riffs like a good cocktail and out comes a record that skips along like a summer’s day. So if you’re a She & Him fan, a music lover in search of a return to the retro pop sound of the old days or just someone trying to find an upbeat quirky album to help pass the time I would recommend checking out Volume Two.