With Volume 3, the duo of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward return with fourteen more sugary-sweet folk-pop confections. She & Him’s third volume continues to flaunt their authentic replication of sun-drenched ‘60s easy-listening. Deschanel has earned plenty of criticism for her quirky acting portrayals, which some find tiresome and repetitive, but it’s hard to deny that she has an occasional penchant for melodic songwriting. Deschanel handles the majority of songwriting on all three volumes, apart from a handful of covers on each release. Although their style is not something that will break barriers, calling She & Him’s work a tamer version of country-tinged indie-folk popsters like Neko Case, Jenny Lewis, and Camera Obscura is not too far off. Deschanel has a richly emotive voice, which lends itself well to both powerful leads and background coo-ing; she alternates between both forms on an amusing track like “Baby”. In terms of actors pursuing a musical career, Deschanel is one of the most successful, largely because she and veteran musician M. Ward often realize the ideal stylistic fits for her vocal delivery and overall past-revering presence, which in this case hones in on sweeping love songs.
The album’s second track, “Never Wanted Your Love”, is one of its grandest achievements for its nostalgic use of strings. Their starry-eyed inclusion, as strings alternate from energetic bursts to romantic slow-movers, reach spiraling heights of beauty that She & Him merely hinted at prior. “I Could’ve Been Your Girl” is another glowing effort that benefits from strings, which Deschanel tends to guide her vocal melodic alteration around. That choice is remarkably well-defined here, as she flaunts a feminine nonchalance that compares to country greats like Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette. Her vocal performances tend to suffer on more minimalist efforts like the creakily acoustic lull of “Turn to White”, where the strings are merely an unnecessary ingredient that does little to lift Deschanel’s vocals. It results in something that sounds more like a bloated Broadway production than the elegant uplifting of “Never Wanted Your Love” and “I Could’ve Been Your Girl”.
“Something’s Hurting You” is a pleasant pop chugger that utilizes strings as a delicate breather amidst the intensely bouncy bass line and lounge keys. Rather than the bloated feeling of “Turn to White” or the overly orchestrated funk tinge of “Together”, “Something’s Hurting You” benefits from transitions that reap benefits from their twists, even if they’re not all that surprising. There’s always a sort of comforting familiarity on She & Him’s finest efforts, and this is one example. Love ballads are typically what She & Him do best, like on “Never Wanted Your Love” or “I Could’ve Been Your Girl”. Their indulgent stylistic twists have the potential to be fun, like the rockabilly chugger “Sunday Girl” or charismatic lounge singer imitator “London”, but for the most part listeners will be most smitten with the lovey-dovey efforts – heavy on melodic beauty even if the lyrics occasionally read like elementary love letters.
Listeners seeking some type of remarkable transition on She & Him’s Volume 3 will be disappointed, but why would anyone expect that? Those even remotely entertained by the duo’s previous releases – or by names like Neko Case and Loretta Lynn – will be quite satisfied. Like some of its tracks, Volume 3 is over-stuffed at 14 tracks, where oddball stylistic adventures occasionally clash with beautifully engaging love songs that hearken back to the heyday of country and folk-pop. Yet even the flawed efforts like “Turn to White” have some endearing tendencies that trace back to lovably nostalgic stylistic movements, like the ‘60s San Fran psych-folk scene in this case. As a result, She & Him’s Volume 3 is an amiable release that should continue to serve as quality easy-listening. It’s something that’s surprisingly easy to float away to, an album that sometimes conjures visions of vintage folk-pop stardom at its best.