It’s hard to be ambivalent about Zooey Deschanel. She’s a polarizing personality, one whose deadpan movie roles and big Bambi eyes are either charming or too cute for their own good. The same can be said for She & Him, a soft rock duo that features Deschanel doing what she does best as a film star: acting utterly adorable alongside a quiet, talented male character. Her co-star in this case is M. Ward, who produces the band's second album and frames Deschanel’s voice with a Spector-sized pile of instruments. Those who already take issue with Zooey’s acting will almost surely pick this record apart -- it’s too reminiscent of her cutesy turns in movies like (500) Days of Summer to change many minds -- but for fans of retro pop (and Deschanel in general), Volume 2 is a gem.
Whether they’re copping the Brill Building sound or resurrecting ‘70s beach-pop, She & Him always seem to have nostalgia on the mind. These 13 tracks hail from an imaginary, sepia-toned world in which Richard Carpenter is king and Ron Burgundy is on the tube, and even a handful of contemporary references (“Talking on the phone and watching Cribs/He doesn’t know what kind of guy he is”) does little to transport the listener back to the 21st century. Like the previous album, Volume 2 would suffer under the weight of its own pastiche if it weren’t so darn endearing, filled as it is with call-and-response vocals, studio reverb, sweeping orchestrations, and other bygone tricks of the trade. Deschanel still has some flaws as a vocalist -- her twang sometimes gets the best of her, pushing parts of the melody flat -- but she smartly plays to her strengths, with a hint of vibrato and a sly, audible smile coloring her best performances. “Love like ours is terrible news, but that won’t stop me crying over you,” she sings at the end of “Thieves,” her voice fading out into M. Ward’s sweeping Wall of Sound. This has all been done before, perhaps, but that’s the whole point, and Volume 2 ends up being a breezy tribute to the group’s influences.