More of the Same
Volume 3, the fourth album from the duo She & Him, follows the precedent set by the first two installments of the group’s catalogue: easily digested SoCal folk-pop, sun-kissed nostalgia for summer afternoons decades ago, lying in the sand or speeding down some curving, coastal highway with the windows down.
Not that there’s anything wrong with sticking to what works—in the case of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, it just so happens to be a mix of The Beach Boys’ jangly guitars blended with The Supremes’ melodic pop and the hopeless-in-love fatalism of Best Coast. Volume 3 doesn’t take any great strides forward, but there are a few subtle shifts that show Deschanel coming more into her own.
As with Volumes 1 and 2, the doe-eyed actress wrote all but three of the songs, with Ward acting as producer and lead guitarist, only making his presence known for a few brief moments on the pseudo doo-wop cover “Baby.” Deschanel proves her musician’s mettle once again on this album, lending her rich alto on the uptempo opener “I’ve Got Your Number, Son.” She lets her voice swell and grow into a big chorus, almost becoming her own coterie of background singers. This song, like “I Could’ve Been Your Girl,” Blondie cover “Sunday Girl” and “Together,” branches out slightly from the largely acoustic sounds of She & Him’s previous recordings, using rolling percussion, staccato piano and electric guitars.
Although Volume 3 expands its sound somewhat, the album retains a cohesive saccharine-sweet ’60s pop feel. “Somebody Sweet To Talk To” takes a leaf out of Carole King’s book, with laid-back choral vocals and bluesy keys. “Snow Queen” has the light, trebley reverb guitar so characteristic of oldies pop. She & Him even cover “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,” Harry Noble’s 1952 hit, remaking it with M. Ward’s folksy guitar and Deschanel’s low, enchanting vocals. But the best of these throwback, wistful tunes is “Turn to White,” with its slow ukelele and lackadaisical island feel. After beginning simply, with only vocals and ukelele, a wave of strings swells up and subsides at just the right moments. With an acute sense of dynamics, the song builds imperceptibly, the guitars gaining in volume, and Deschanel’s vocals layered in counterpoint.
“Turn to White” is an example of a charming, well-constructed, old-fashioned pop song, the kind that She & Him are great at writing and performing, the kind that populates Volume 3, and before that Volume 1 and Volume 2. But maybe it’s time for Deschanel and Ward to take their strangely complementary talents and try something a little different on Volume 4.