Review: Volume 3

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You’re driving down a highway, but not an interstate highway where the speed limit is seventy miles-per-hour, a historically designated scenic highway where the speed limit tops out at around forty. You’re driving a convertible with the top down, but the convertible is not a muscle or sports car, something more like a Mini Cooper. The wind’s blowing past your face, but not hard enough that you’re worried about losing your hat. Cartoon birds are chirping overhead. This is the experience of listening to She and Him’s first two albums, the aptly named Volume One and Volume Two. Both records were exercises in twee vapidity, and I swear I mean that in the nicest possible way. They’re each wonderfully pleasant, and perfectly listenable to – as background music. When songs are so sugar-sweet as the stuff that Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward produce, your ears quickly desensitize themselves to the sound.

Now, after a short detour in the form of A Very She & Him Christmas, the duo have brought us Volume Three. It’s nice to be able to say Volume Three is something different, if only slightly, rather than just an additional fourteen songs. Zooey Deschanel has always been interested in making 60’s-sounding folk pop, and she’s always succeeded, but now she’s stretching out into adjacent influences, jazz, surf pop, even the slightest hint of rock.

“I’ve Got Your Number Son” is the most exciting She & Him song to date, in a very relative way. The fact that its bass line is the most dangerous thing contained within Volume 3 probably isn’t saying much for the album, but for these two it’s a change of pace. Three cover songs dot the album, the most notable being “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me”, famously recorded by Mel Carter and Gloria Estefan. As with everything else the younger Deschanel does, Zooey puts a dainty spin on the song, avoiding the dynamic ranges that Estefan hit, which in my opinion is what really made the original special.

Volume 3 is both more playful and more introspective at given moments than the previous She & Him albums, but it still suffers from the main symptom. It’s easy to listen to in the background, as something you’re not paying much attention to, but when you’re trying to actively consume the media, the LP has trouble commanding your focus, even at just forty-five minutes. Sugar-pop has the same problems as consuming actual sugar. If you buy a Coke or a Hershey’s bar, you know your taste buds are going to bask in the sweet sensation. But every time you buy a Coke and a Hershey’s bar, even though it sounds like the logical next step, whichever one you consume second will have its flavor robbed because that longing has already been satisfied. One, two, three twee songs can be enjoyable, but after seven you’ve gotten what you came for, and you still have seven songs to go.

6/10 – She & Him’s Volume Three is an improvement on Volume One and Volume Two, but you have to actively be wanting to hear what the duo have to offer. All others may find the album to be empty calories.

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