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Saturday, August 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 78.0° F  Fog/Mist
The Paper
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She & Him: Volume Two
(Merge)
on

Restraint is not a virtue in modern pop. Overstatement rules the electric growls of alt-rock and the drenching synth of dance.

But on their second collaboration in three years, Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward revisit early-1960s variety pop - the era between Big Bands and the Beatles when nuanced songs politely entertained audiences and didn't always let it all hang out.

Like the actress she is, Deschanel, 30, masters this role. She hula-hoops in a white and red polka-dotted dress for the video to the album's first single, "In the Sun." She dances in choreographed routines as clean-cut as the ones Olivia Newton John performed in Grease.

For Deschanel, She & Him is more than a movie part. It's a chance to showcase her formidable songwriting.

"In the Sun" is built around a gentle piano riff that's at once catchy, optimistic and bittersweet. The album's variety builds from there. "Me and Him" is a down-tempo, nostalgic, pedal-steel country song that might have made it on Hee Haw. "Lingering Still" has the feel of a Spanish waltz and features the oohs and ahhs of backup singers. "Gonna Get Along Without You Now" covers a song published in 1952 by the late orchestra conductor Milton Kellem.

Throughout the album, Deschanel sings the way Patsy Cline might have if she came of age in a Brooklyn indie-rock commune in 2010. Deschanel married indie icon Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie a few months ago, but She & Him's originality is a stark reminder of just how beaten the indie path has become.

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