Volume 3 is almost exactly what you’d expect from the M. Ward/Zooey Deschanel duo She & Him. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you enjoyed their previous albums—just, well, don’t anticipate any major surprises.
While Volume 3 doesn’t represent a grand departure, it does show a promising evolution. This time around there’s more polish, more guest performers, fuller instrumentation—it’s a better produced album than previous incarnations. Absent is that rough-around-the-edges feel of the first two volumes, which lent them an occasional whiff of vanity project.
Volume 3 features three covers and 11 original songs written by Deschanel. The new material is mostly solid: Traces of a more modern indie sound (think Rilo Kiley) mix with the sweet, vintage vibe that is She & Him’s hallmark. It’s hard to tell covers from originals, but that’s fine—like their previous albums, it seems designed to convey a mood more than anything else. Volume 3 evokes images of spunky ’60s girl groups in heavy eyeliner and tiki drinks being served in smoky bars, while somewhere out there Elvis films “Blue Hawaii.”
The first two tracks are the strongest and most modern-sounding. “I’ve Got Your Number, Son,” is a bouncy, catchy opener that draws part of its charm from the incongruous idea of Deschanel calling anyone “son.” The still more effervescent “Never Wanted Your Love” offers the line, “All I know is that I’m tired of being clever / Everybody’s clever these days.” Coming from indie darling Deschanel this perhaps should ring false, but it doesn’t. She & Him is twee but sincere—they unironically revel in their rosy, retro world.
Deschanel also acquits herself nicely on “London,” a spare ballad stripped down to just vocals and piano. She shows some restraint on “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,” a song with a high potential for schmaltz, and performs an adequate if unremarkable cover of “Sunday Girl,” which represents the basic limitations of the duo. Nobody expects them to cover Megadeth, but couldn’t they attempt something a bit more daring than the sweetest of all Blondie songs?
But no, that’s not their schtick. Like their previous efforts, the new album doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny, but it is hard to beat She & Him as vintage mood music—they have nailed retro ambience. Pop on Volume 3, light your tiki torches and start mixing up some Mai Tais.