M. Ward is back on the road. The folk singer-songwriter from Portland, Ore. released his seventh full-length album last week, titled “A Wasteland Companion,” via Merge Records.
The album starts upbeat and remarkably poppy before slowly shifting back into the folk stylings Ward is best known for. The most experimental sounding song of the album, “Primitive Girl,” steps away from the guitar and vocal pairing that dominates so much of his music. The bouncy piano, drums and multiple guitar lines give this song an upbeat feel, despite Ward’s ethereal, echoing vocals.
“I Get Ideas” sounds like it belongs behind a couple’s photo slide show depicting a trip to Paris. Again upbeat, the lyrics are romantic and the classic-rock-reminiscent instrumentals give the song an unavoidable sense of nostalgia.
“The First Time I Ran Away” is the best song on the album. The track consists of a fluttering, unassuming guitar line, a stand-up bass and some atmospheric effects, giving it a misty, contemplative quality. The lyrics are poetic and beautiful, yet completely incomprehensible. Despite this, they act almost as another instrument, adding something extra to the song.
“Watch the Show” goes in the opposite direction, telling the story of Billy R. Burrows, a jaded TV producer working on a typically overproduced and meaningless show. In the song, the producer seizes control of the show, and breaks the fourth wall to directly address the audience. The song is filled with regret and bitterness at wasted years, broken ambitions and a message for the people who didn’t know he existed.
“There’s a Key” is simple, just a guitar and a bass line, yet it’s one of the most beautiful songs on the album.
From here, the album gets continually more folky. Ward returns to simple, vocal-driven folk tropes to create a relaxing, unobtrusive finish. “Pure Joy” closes out the album.
While Ward hasn’t reinvented himself in any sense with this album, what he has done is create another measured, relaxing and smooth addition to his quality discography. Fans and newcomers alike will find quite a bit to enjoy here, especially in the coming summer months.
Ward is playing a sold out show at the Belly Up Tavern today and performs again at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival this weekend.