She & Him’s charm used to seem a little… Starbucks-y at times. You know what I mean: it’s fine for what you need, but both the band and the big-box coffee chain seem a bit like mainstream, inoffensive versions of their respective wares masquerading as hip versions of the same. (Also, She & Him sound like they probably get played at Starbucks a lot.)
And yet, with three proper albums and a toe-tappin’ Christmas record under their belts, the Zooey Deschanel/M. Ward duo seem to have found a groove and stuck with it. Much like Starbucks, at this point, it’s fruitless to try to resist. Just sit back and enjoy your extra-sweet chai latte, or, in this case, your super-precious wide-eyed ingenue crooning reverb-y, backwards-glancing acoustic-girl-group-pop. (Or both, as She & Him sound like they probably get played at Starbucks a lot.)
Your trepidation is understandable. Zooey Deschanel’s adorable-actress-who-sings shtick may be wearing thin for you; perhaps “adorkable” fills you with the fiery anger of a thousand suns, or perhaps those batting peepers just don’t get your motor running like they used to. And these She & Him records essentially lean on M. Ward as arranger and producer, never allowing the singer-songwriter to flex his own considerable performance muscle. (There has never, it deserves to be noted, been a She & Him record on the level of Post-War.) It’s all She, precious little Him; She & Him could well be named Zooey Deschanel & Some… Some Dude, I Dunno, and very well might be if that wouldn’t be difficult to find space for on a jewel case insert.
And yet, Volume 3 feels like an inevitable blossoming. When you enter with the knowledge that it’s basically a Zooey Deschanel record — with M. Ward in the wings to help make things a bit smoother — and judge it by those merits, it’s really quite nice. The extent of Zooey’s singing ability is essentially an ability to sing on key and with a certain coquettish charisma — but with a set of retro-pop jams this nice, it’s hard to argue with her. “Somebody Sweet To Talk To” is the best of these, a bouncy girl-group number with a lovely, belting refrain. “Something’s Haunting You” is swooning and charming; “Together” introduces swirling strings into the mix in a most pleasing fashion. It’s never the most exciting of records — acoustic singer-songwriter platters rarely are — but it’s tight, well-performed, and entirely pleasant. And this time around, the melodies are exceptionally memorable, and couched in layers of playful background vocals.
So, with three volumes of She & Him at your disposable, it may be time to stop worrying and love the bomb. Volume 3 is the pair’s most lovable set yet, and a whimsical, reverb-soaked traipse through Deschanel and Ward’s retro-pop influences.