Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Someday, you'll be cool.

Volume One is an album that I tried to avoid from the day it was leaked last spring. Don't get me wrong: M. Ward is practically therapy for me, and I've loved Zooey Deschanel ever since she spoke those immortal lines in Almost Famous. I loved her even more after she sang "Baby, It's Cold Outside" in one of Elf's more tender moments. But something about this album's word of mouth promotion put me off. It was so buzzed about, I thought it probably had to be a flub. "I'll let the hype die down," I thought, "and then see what I think."

What I think is that this is one of the most refreshing albums of the year, perfect for summer months. It's light and it's easy to swallow, but there's still real depth courtesy of Ward's old school production values. Much has been made of the album's division into covers and originals penned by Deschanel herself, but I think the more stark contrast here is among the styles used. Here we have a handful of slow burning love songs with acoustic accompaniment and light percussion, while over there lays Ward's stab at recreating an early-60's girl group sound. Perhaps it's because of my own predilection towards the Ronettes and Shirelles of the world, but these are the most successful songs on the album. "Sweet Darlin'" has the kind of hand claps and shuffling chorus that make me wish I had a time machine, while "I Was Made For You" has backup vocals that sound straight from the Brill Building.

The last couple of years have been full of reverence for this period running from just after the rock n roll explosion to the early successes of Motown. Before Amy Winehouse imploded, producer Mark Ronson got her in the same room as the Dap Kings to record what I'd reluctantly call neo-soul. Sure, it's new, and it's definitely got all the trappings of soul, but stylistically it is straight out of the early 60's. Not all that neo. While Winehouse's Back to Black was more Supremes than Ronettes, the pop laden tracks on Volume One provide an unexpected counterpoint to that album.

There are a few duds, but they are easily forgiven: as always, low standards lead to big returns.

Volume One on eMusic
Video: "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?"

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