She and Him
M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel are entertaining enough people. Ward is a perfectly acceptable guitarist and Deschanel gamely holds up the vocals. But there’s this niggling part of me that can’t help but ask: If Deschanel was just another girl, would this group have two No. 1 albums on Billboard’s U.S. folk chart? The indictment is alluded to in the cover art — the focus clearly on She. “Volume 3” is an inoffensive mix of covers and Deschanel-penned originals. The best ditty off the album is probably the poppy “Somebody Sweet to Talk to,” but the whole album has a fairly uniform sound. If you’re into the Leslie Gore-throwback sound, pretty much all of She and Him’s catalogue will scratch that itch. But for what it is, “Volume 3” is the best of the duo’s efforts, and a lot of that is due to Deschanel’s songwriting, which has gotten stronger as she has gotten more confident. CV
‘Modern Vampires of the City’
Vampire Weekend has grown up. The band’s debut album was a big pile of fun but viewed largely as a passing fad. The suspicion appeared to be confirmed when its follow-up — 2010’s “Contra” — was largely a disappointment. But Vampire Weekend is back with newly refocused effort and clearly wants to put worries about its permanence to rest. The album starts with the typically indie-light “Obvious Bicycle” but quickly moves into deeper, more subtle territory with the back-to-back “Step” and “Diane Young.” The two tracks are both beautiful in composition and production and set the tone for the rest of the album. The next 10 tracks may never quite hit the heady highs of those two tracks, but the result is still high enough to be one of the most memorable albums of the spring. CV
Chad Taylor is an award-winning news journalist and music writer from Des Moines.