By now, pretty much everyone knows that She & Him– actress/singer Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward– aren’t everyone’s twee cup of tea. The polarizing pop duo have created three albums under their She & Him moniker, but often, fighting off the backlash appears to be more work than the actual creative process itself. Now, as Deshanel and Ward ready the release of their next installment Volume 3, it’s easy to forget that She & Him are actual musicians, not just “adorkable” twee targets of ridicule. For better or worse, any critique of the band’s music inevitably becomes a critique of Zooey Deschanel as a human being. Did M. Ward “sell out” to work alongside a network TV star? Maybe. But that shouldn’t affect your perception of the music. On “Somebody Sweet To Talk To,” Deschanel seems to address these criticisms when she sings, “I’m not a rose, I only pick the flowers.”
Volume 3 features eleven tracks written by Deschanel and three covers, all produced by Ward. If you’re wondering if She & Him have grown to embrace their dark side, the answer is a resounding “no”– but you probably could have guessed that. Sure, there is a sweet melancholic style to Volume 3 we haven’t witnessed before, and it’s actually quite refreshing; sadness suits Deschanel well. The album opens with “I’ve Got Your Number, Son,” in which sassy vocals scold an ex (Ben Gibbard?), “You’re getting restless, I’m getting restless looking at you.” The track may be bold, but it still features the lightest, brightest “oohs” you’ll find anywhere. In Zooeyland, even heartbreak sparkles and shines like a sunny spring day.
“Never Wanted Your Love” evokes a clear country influence in the style of Loretta Lynn (Zooey is even set to play the country crooner in an upcoming Broadway musical adaptation of Cole Miner’s Daughter.) It’s also one of many tracks to feature an elegant display of strings, creating a dreamy longing that permeates the album. Other Volume 3 highlights include the Johnny/June style duet “Baby,” the sweet cover “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,” and the lonely, lovely “Turn to White.”
Still, much of Volume 3 goes down so sweet you’re practically choking on it. Then again, you should already know what you’re getting with She & Him. If you can overlook the dizzying doses of cuteness, though, Deschanel has excellent pop sensibilities, and her music is a clear homage to her many influences; among them are vintage country, jazz, 60s girl groups, and like-minded 80s bands such as The Smiths. For the most part, her voice on Volume 3— in the past, a little too thick and syrupy for my taste– is clearer and more fluid, working well alongside heightened instrumentals and the rich, thoroughly lovely addition of strings. Haters can hate all they want, but there’s no denying that Zooey Deschanel has talent.
In a memorable season one episode of Deschanel’s sitcom “New Girl,” her cupcake-loving character Jess defends her lifestyle to her rommate’s girlfriend, Julia, a tough-as-nails lawyer (the great Lizzy Caplan.) While intended to be comedic and clearly induce a few laughs, what Jess says actually speaks more to Deschanel’s music than the plight of her TV character:
I brake for birds. I rock a lot of polka dots. I have touched glitter in the last 24 hours. I spend my entire day talking to children, and I find it fundamentally strange that you’re not a dessert person. That’s just weird and it freaks me out. And I’m sorry I don’t talk like Murphy Brown, and I hate your pant suit and I wish it had ribbons on it to make it slightly cute. And that doesn’t mean I’m not smart and tough and strong.
Sometimes, society makes it so that women are either a Julia or a Jess. Although I’m probably the former, I’m still a firm believer that Zooey Deschanel can have her cake, and eat it, too.
3.5 / 5 bars