Sean “Grasshopper” Mackowiak is a founding member of Mercury Rev. You can follow him on Twitter here.
Sunday mornings hold a unique place in world culture. I say “world culture” because I’ve had the same Sunday morning experience around the world — whether in London, in Tokyo, in Oslo, in Portland, in L.A., in New York City, or while growing up in Buffalo, New York.
When you’re a child, Sunday morning has a weird, magical aura to it, the feeling of time being expanded and stretched. It’s a day off from school, but you know you have to go back to the structure of school on Monday. All the supermarkets and stores have shorter hours or are completely shut down for the day. You wake up, watch cartoons, and your elders wake up past noon. (Later in life, you learn they are either hung over or just want to have one day of the week to sleep in.)
The whole day moves a little slower — it’s a little like being in limbo, and for that small amount of time, you can forget your troubles, or as Reed and Cale put it best, “Watch out, the world’s behind you/ There’s always someone around you who will call/ It’s nothin’ at all….”
When you get older, Sunday morning keeps this magic — you wake up next to a lover, and now maybe you are the one who is a bit hung over. You usually don’t get up early for breakfast, you make some coffee and sit around and listen to records or the radio or a playlist.
It happened to be on a Sunday morning in 2006 that I first heard an M. Ward song on Radio Woodstock and it sort of stuck with me for days — a song from his album Post-War called “Poison Cup.” And so I became a fan of the songs and spooky/folky production of M. Ward.
Fast-forward a couple of years and there it is, the first She & Him album! Volume One contained some of the same thoughtful production and dreamy songwriting as Post-War, but with Zooey Deschanel doing most of the singing. Before listening to any of She & Him, you sort of come to the table with theHelloGiggles Zooey Deschanel singing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in the shower in the 2003 film Elf. There is that Bambi-eyed, child-like innocence in many She & Him lyrics, but the subject of broken love is also sprinkled throughout Volume Three, as in “Turn to White,” where she sings, “But I’m stronger than the pictures that you took before you left/ In the light, they’re fading to white…” and you can’t help but wonder how many of the lyrics were written during Deschanel’s break-up with her former husband, musician Ben Gibbard. For Deschanel’s part, there’s a confidence on Volume Three as she comes into her own as a singer-songwriter, leaving M. Ward to work on and craft the lovely studio arrangements. (He barely sings this time around.)
But, getting back to Sunday mornings, in the greatest sense Volume Three is a timeless Sunday morning AM radio collection of songs. Yes, on Saturday night it’s all about the Ramones, the Stooges, Stax and soul-clapping your ass up and down the bar. But Sunday morning is the time to reflect and stop time with Big Star or Galaxie 500 or Paris 1919 or Volume Three.
The Phil-Spector-meets-Brill-Building production starts from the top with “I’ve Got Your Number, Son” with great girl group-style background vocals which reappear on the sweeping “Never Wanted Your Love,” in which Deschanel sings, ”I’m tired of being clever, everybody is clever these days.” Guest musicians include: ace NRBQ bassist Joey Spampinato, former Minuteman Mike Watt, Tilly and the Wall, Pierre de Reeder from Rilo Kiley, and Tom Hagerman from Devotchka. And together they construct a classic hit parade of songs, including a cover of, naturally, Blondie’s “Sunday Girl.” The ballad “London” is a nice cultural contrast to LCD Soundsystem’s “New York, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down”; Deschanel croons, “Tulips bloom in the most unusual way/ Oh London, I love you, the clouds never go away…”
I can imagine Volume Three becoming one of my Sunday morning go-to collection of songs to add to “the playlist.” “You can tell everyone I’ve got your number, son/ ‘Cause I can shine my light on you,” Deschanel sings. And that’s the cool, glowing light that shines and dances through the blinds when you wish every morning was a Sunday morning.