When I see She & Him in concert in Boston this July the opening act will be Camera Obscura and I can’t think of a better match. For it’s Camera Obscura that immediately comes to mind when I listen to She & Him’s new album, Volume 3. A mere ten seconds into the opening track, “I’ve Got Your Number, Son,” it’s obvious from the gorgeous, sun-kissed harmony that Camera Obscura is an influence. It could have easily been a song on any of their first few albums and echoes songs like “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken” and “I Need All The Friends I Can Get” in particular. That being said, it’s not as though She & Him’s new record is a Camera Obscura rip off. Quite the contrary. Perhaps Zooey Deschanel and Camera Obscura just have very similar record collections. Undoubtedly, they must have every album The Beach Boys have ever released between them. Not to mention records by the artists She & Him expertly cover here, Ellie Greenwich and Blondie. (She & Him also do a stellar rendition of the Harry Noble-penned “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” here; the song is probably most famous for Karen Chandler’s 1952 version or Mel Carter’s 1965 rendition — both were big hits.) But, yes, my bet would be that Zooey was listening to quite a bit of Camera Obscura when she wrote the 11 original tracks appearing on Volume 3. And I think that’s just wonderful.
She & Him’s last album was A Very She & Him Christmas, which was very different from their first two albums not because it was a Christmas record but because the instrumentation was decidedly sparse. Whereas the duo’s Volume One and Volume Two had rich if not elaborate arrangements, many of the songs on their Christmas record bordered on acapella. On Volume 3 most of the tracks feature lush arrangements, but the instruments are given more breathing room this time around. Things are often more subtle, more nuanced, but no less enchanting. Take the country-flavored “Turn To White,” for example. At first listen, it will undoubtedly be Zooey’s light, dreamy vocals that stand out, with faint guitar and gentle percussion backing them. But if you pay close attention you’ll notice a beautiful string arrangement, particularly during the second half of the song, with serene violins by Tom Hagerman and sweet viola by Amanda Lawrence. Listening to the song is almost like looking at a faded Polaroid, which isn’t surprising when you consider the lyrics. “I’m stronger than the picture that you took before you left,” Zooey sings. “And the light is fading to white / in the light the colors turn to white.” Another gentle highlight is “Something’s Haunting You,” which features subtle harmonies, acoustic guitar, a simple drum beat and a child’s percussion instrument.
The album’s first single, “Never Wanted Your Love,” is one of its more upbeat and vibrant tracks with a Phil Spector-ish arrangement which features brilliant strings, swirly vocal harmonies and golden vocals. “I never wanted your love, but I needed it all,” Zooey sings, her voice as candied as can be.
M. Ward trades lead vocal lines with Zooey on their inspired cover of Ellie Greenwich’s “Baby.” Greenwich was most famous for writing or co-writing such legendary songs as “Leader of the Pack,” “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” and “Da Do Ron Ron.” She was also the person who discovered Neil Diamond, another artist who likely influenced Zooey and M. Ward when they were arranging the album. For example, “I Could Have Been Your Girl” would fit perfectly on a mix with Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon.” “I could have been your girl, and you could’ve been my four leaf clover,” Zooey sings and it’s easy to imagine Diamond covering the track.
Another stand out is “Together,” which blends disco-flavored bass guitar playing with saxophone, strings and a glorious chorus. “Yes, we all go through it together and we all go at it alone,” Zooey sings with plenty of precious backing vocals to elevate things to a higher, blissful level.
Finally, I have to draw attention to the duo’s cover of Blondie’s “Sunday Girl.” The amazing thing is that they make it sound like She & Him covering a classic from the ’50’s. All at once they modernize it and make it sound as though it existed decades before it actually did. It’s also noteworthy for the song’s French part, which Zooey nails so well that one hopes they’ll actually cover a few French songs on the inevitable She & Him Volume 4.