March 27, 2008

Test Spin: Gnarls Barkley

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True to the laid-back, long summer day style that made him famous, alt-indie-country maestro M. Ward’s most recent release alludes to a simpler, slow-paced way of life. Add in actress and closet singer-songwriter Zooey Deschanel’s love life woes and you get She & Him, a collaboration between the two. M. Ward’s remarkably wide range of instrumental mastery is central to the album, from acoustic guitar to drums, the electric noodle and the kazoo.
When one thinks of the vocals that typically accompany his old-fashioned harmonious music, notions of slow soft crooning come to mind. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with Deschanel’s singing. Her voice seems to change character from one track to the next, has a thin range and is overall whiny, starkly forced and staccato.
Yet M. Ward’s ability to seamlessly meld simple melodies into a layered arrangement of nostalgic, carefree sounds pulls the album together, particularly on the standout tracks “You Really Got A Hold On Me” and “I Should Have Known Better” — covers of the Miracles and the Beatles, respectively. Though the album manages to retain the same heartbroken, lonesome feel throughout despite Deschanel’s vocal shortcomings, M. Ward accomplishes much more as a one-man band.