Monday, February 4, 2013

M. Ward A Wasteland Companion 2012

I bought this record a while back and I've thought about writing it up for a while. I have a couple of other M. Ward records, and I enjoy them when I listen to them. But here's the thing: I never know what to think of them, and although I enjoy them, I can never really recall why. One or two songs stick out as memorable, but I'm never sure which ones those were. The entire experience is enjoyable and yet I'm left with almost no impression. I sat down to take notes and figure this one out.

Let's go straight to the overall impression. This is a fine record filled with well-crafted songs and skilled performances. For my taste, there's not enough rocking and too much mellow folk-styled songs. But... the slower songs are really very good. So as long as you know that it's going to be laid back (especially side two), no problem. In fact, you might find this record particularly good late night fare.

Clean Slate is a soft acoustic ballad featuring Ward's high register, and it's a fine start. Primitive Girl is a nice light piano-driven rocker with a funky, echo-y vocal effect. Zoey Descantel, Ward's partner in She and Him, joins in on Me And My Shadow, a folksy song that recalls some of Josh Ritter's recent work, and Sweetheart, a perfect folk-rock with a sweet melody and matching lyric. The shuffling rock of I Get Ideas and the gentle acoustic of The First Time I Ran Away end side one nicely.

Side two opens with the title track, and it is another quality acoustic ditty. The psychopath of Watch The Show is fun to meet, and the guitar-heavy rocker has a quick tempo that's welcome. There's A Key is simple, sweet and lovely, as is Crawl After You. Wild Goose is mostly instrumental, and excellent. And Pure Joy is just that- a beautiful love song. That's only one of the last five songs with a tempo.

M. Ward's strength as a producer makes a big difference. The arrangements are simple but very well chosen. Piano here, string section there, small rock combo, solo acoustic, whatever the song seems to need. His plaintive vocals make the quieter songs carry more weight. 

Sometimes you don't realize how good something is until you pay some attention.

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