Close your eyes and imagine you have a cigarette and a gramophone. Now put on She & Him
and you're as close to going back in time as any record from 2014 can get you.
People have a tendency to be unimpressed with any music that's not entirely unexpected, but Classics
is as pleasant as it is unsurprising. The duo has centered their 5 studio albums on the vintage sounds of the forties, fifties, and sixties, but their latest release is their least ambiguous tribute yet. Made up of thirteen covers of, well, classics. The songs span the mid-twentieth century, the album finally puts Zooey Deschanel
's throaty, retro voice (which has been meandering awkwardly between genres since her debut) in the perfect era.
She & Him, aka New Girl
star Deschanel and guitar icon/love of my life M. Ward
, have compiled songs from the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Dusty Springfield, and Frank Sinatra and reworked them ever-so-slightly to produce what is certainly one of the better moments of their shared catalog. Classics
achieves what She & Him have been on the verge of accomplishing for years. It bridges a twenty-first century folksy sound with the music they have been trying so hard to emulate since their inception. Inspired as Ward and Deschanel clearly are by the sixties country and jazz, they have so often tried to mimic it, and their delivery been somewhat off. Deschanel has a superb voice for the 'classics' of the fifties and sixties, but has faltered in past performances as she attempted to mediate it with modern folk and pop.
By keeping most of the compositions on Classics
as they were in their heyday, She & Him deliver a cozy and approachable record that is—finally—retro without seeming like it's trying too hard. The low-point of the album is the Dusty Springfield cover "Stay Awhile," which—of course—the duo released as a single. Deschanel's voice awkwardly verges on pop, where it has proven it does not belong. Go figure. On the other hand, she shines on Johnny Mathis's "It's Not for Me to Say," which also features a quintessential sixties horn solo. It's probably not radio-friendly, but hey, that's my point. She & Him aren't radio-friendly, they're not even all that indie-friendly, and Classics
sounds like their first step in accepting that.
Maybe credit for this goes to Columbia, as Classics
is She & Him's first record with the label. It's a surprising direction coming from one of the most pop-heavy and star-studded labels in the game. Still, there's also the element of the full live band used for recording. The brass, strings, and whole shebang were key in many of the original recordings and were rightly treated as such when appropriate, and tastefully restrained when not. The rendition of the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody" features just Deschanel's voice and Ward's guitar, and it's truly all the song calls for (no pottery necessary
There is a creative element missing from Classics
. Every song is a cover, and none of them deviate much from their original composition. But it doesn't have to be a bad thing. After all, Classics
is a chance for Deschanel and Ward to pay homage to their influences. It's a tribute album more than anything else, and it's a damn good salute.
She & Him's Classics
is out now, get your copy on iTunes
, and watch the video for "Stay Awhile" below: