M. Ward: A Wasteland Companion
The idea of inconsistency always carries a negative connotation when talking about music. It suggests a mess, a lack of control, a lack of vision. But in certain, capable hands, inconsistency becomes the vision. On M. Ward’s seventh studio album, A Wasteland Companion, Portland folk singer-songwriter Matthew Ward has crafted a record that cycles through a bunch of disparate styles over its dozen songs, never deciding to settle into a consistent groove. Yet this inability ‒ or reluctance ‒ to settle into a groove shouldn’t be considered a negative in this case because, while the songs don’t necessarily work well together, they still ultimately work. It’s a testament to Ward’s deft touch as an artist that allows this amalgamation of styles to never feel cluttered and instead feel enjoyably diverse.
If, for whatever reason, you were to listen to only the first five songs on A Wasteland Companion, you would likely assume Ward was tapping back into the light-hearted pop flare that marked his works with Zooey Deschanel in She and Him. Part of the reason it hearkens to She and Him is that fact that, well, She, the adorkable Deschanel, is featured twice over the course of the album’s first five songs. (Though it isn’t specified in the song title, it also appears that she is featured quite a bit in a third song, “I Get Ideas”). This portion of the album is completely enjoyable and light and really does hit some sweet spots. On “Primitive Girl,” Ward gives us a Bowie-esque tune with a keyboard melody that is determined to get stuck in your head for a least a couple days. On “Sweetheart,” Deschanel lays her sultry vocals over one of the more well-executed songs on the album. To round out this pop-laden first half, “I Get Ideas” is totally out of place and weird, but still totally addictive and, for lack of a better word, Elvis-like in tone.
Then “The First Time I Ran Away” rolls around, tapping into that signature M. Ward country folk style. It’s a well-written, understated song that serves as a jarring departure from the album’s light first half. Yet the fact that the album takes such a sudden, unexpectedly low-tempo turn makes it more underwhelming than understated. Sadly, parts of the album’s second half do suffer from being a bit dull. With that said, Ward knows what he’s doing and he proves his adeptness by knowing when to add that subtle push on a song that keeps the listener satisfied. You can sort of float away in some of these songs. They are airy and lush and meander into new, deeper places as they develop. This is shown best on “Crawl After You,” a song that starts off with some piano chords that would be right at home in a Charlie Brown holiday special, but soon descends into an intricate string arrangement.
Don’t look to this album if you want some mind-blowing sonic adventure. It’s more so a quiet escape, guided by an artist that knows how to keep a listener satisfied just enough. There’s a lot to explore and enjoy over A Wasteland Companion’s range of pop, country and folk, but nothing really capable of being adored.
MP3: M. Ward “Crawl After You”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl
M. Ward: A Wasteland Companion