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Monday, April 9, 2012

M. Ward: A Wasteland Companion (Release Date: 4-10-2012)

        Where to now for Matt Ward? The 38-year-old Portland native has already enjoyed quite the prolific career: A Wasteland Companion represents his eighth release under his solo moniker, M. Ward, a figure even more impressive when his various side projects are taken into account. He's a simple, soulful type, and while his music has never exactly tried to reinvent the wheel, a sonic split has occurred in his sound over the years. Earlier M. Ward entries, such as Transfiguration of Vincent, were filled with lovely, sleepy acoustic ditties, Ward's voice sort of lofting around in the mid-ground. Then came the high production values of Post-War, which saw the man expand his arsenal without over-halling it. Then there's the She & Him phase, his Zooey Deschanel-headlined side project that focuses on the cutest, old-timiest music imaginable. All three are the same man, making music within the same basic universe, but their distinct styles make each new entry into his canon a mystery.

        A Wasteland Companion has arranged an interesting game plan to combat this issue: Throw all those style together, and see what happens. At first, as the gentle, twinkling notes of Clean Slate suggest we're in for a throwback, Ward's voice no more than mist. Then comes Primitive Girl, immediately erasing this notion with fun, bouncing piano chords, and a readily hummable chorus. We're no further in than track four when Deschanel herself shows up, ushering in the She & Him style on the appropriately named Sweetheart. This devil-may-care approach costs the album a sense of purpose, but it also makes for a pretty interesting ride. While the disc's second half settles largely into the relaxing trappings of his earlier work, the album's grab-bag vibe ensures that it's a good deal more memorable than his last solo effort, Hold Time. Again, the guy's not reinventing the wheel here, just crafting comfy, homey tunes.

Grade: B

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