The '01 Echo has become our dust-around-town-and-get-things-done vehicle. It's also where I listen with the greatest intent to my music. The car came with a factory-installed CD player, which, in this era of sound files and satellite radio, is the technological equivalent of the 8-Track Cassette Deck. When I've finished my monthly downloads at eMusic I see which "albums" fit together on a single CD, then burn it and give it a spin as I scoot about on errands.
This practice has made for some strange musical bedfellows, but few pairings have been as jarring to my expectations as this month's: She & Him, Volume One (e) and We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed by Los Campesinos! (e) The latter are keeping alive (*cough*) the sex-death obsession that fueled British dance-music in the 80s (the jaunty fatalism that runs through 24 Hour Party People(A)). These Cardiff kids inject a lot of snap into their gloom, and I find it all a welcome reprieve from the aurally-enforced cheer of the season.
Hot on their heels is Volume One by She & Him, Paste's choice for album of the year. Full disclosure: I was determined to dislike this album. The deliberate understatement of the duet's name and album (starring Zooey Deschanel as the torch singer!!) along with the cutesy poses for the camera signaled something altogether a little too fey for my tastes. And 2008, I thought, signaled a year when fey was a quality we had in overabundance. I figured I'd give it a quick spin, then dismiss it and the rest of this dismal year with a shrug.
It can't be done. For all the posing, the actual product is delivered with charming sincerity. Deschanel fluidly shifts from sha-da-da R&B to Loretta Lynn twang, and wallows about in Ward's lush retro-production with a delightful ease. I'm not yet sure if I can claim Volume One as my all-time favorite album of the year, but it's certainly made my top-five. Added bonus: it appeals to the women in my household, too.