The last time Matt Ward dropped an album was 2006’s Post-War, which means for the past three years he hasn’t been up to much, right? Not exactly.
Over the past couple of years it seems like you couldn’t get away from the name M. Ward if you tried. He appeared on two Bright Eyes records, co-produced + collaborated + appeared on both of Jenny Lewis’s solo albums, and is the him behind last year’s nostalgic and critically acclaimed She & Him. With his name being attached to so much creative success it’s no wonder that by the time he got around to dropping a new LP expectations would be pretty high.
This Tuesday when “Hold Time” hit the shelves I had to wonder how many of its purchasers would be actual M. Ward fans or She & Himmer’s hoping for more. If you are of the latter camp I have to imagine that there were only two song on this album you truly enjoyed and those would be “Never Had Nobody Like You” and “Rave On” – both featuring Zooey Deschanel.
So for the rest of you, here’s the skinny on the new M. Ward.
Matt’s voice is a cracked and echoed ghost of music past. His blues/folk infusion and heavy acoustic leanings create a rustic sound found in the soil of traditional American music. I listen to his songs and picture railroad cars and men chopping wood. As a folkster who romanticizes about log cabins M. Ward is a man after my own heart.
That being said, as much as I love Ward’s sound half of this album falls a little short to me. Maybe it was the over-hype but after a while this record just begins to weigh a little heavy and repetitively on my ears.
The beginning of the album strikes perfectly, chugging in with “For Beginners” which wins for hand claps, guitar riffs, and a drawled out “uhhhh huh”. As mentioned “Never Had Nobody With You” features Zooey Deschanel and I have to admit this electric ridden rock n’ roll track is the albums catchy as hell standout. “Jailbird” has some mucky sounding background synths but outside of that is another strong acoustic track with imagery ridden lyrics. Next up is title track “Hold Time” which is slow paced and haunting. Personally, I just can’t latch into this one like I can some of the other’s, although under all the reverb are some great lyrics.
“Rave On” is the second track on the album which features Zooey Deschanel and it’s a lovely little rock n’ roll cover of Mr. Buddy Holly himself. Jason Lytle (see: Grandaddy) guest stars on “To Save Me”, a piano driven track with a quick pulse and darling lyrics (save me from sailing over the edge). His folk sound returns on “One Hundred Million Years” and the fanfare surrounding “To Save Me” is stripped away to form a minimalistic and beautiful acoustic track. Things pick up halfway through “Stars of Leo”, making the second half of the song far more interesting, but it never manages to break through for me. “Fisher of Men” is a very Johnny Cash-esque track with the standup bass and extra-worn voice, but I don’t really buy it (maybe it’s the blatant Christian imagery that did me in?). “Oh Lonesome Me” is a classic country track featuring Lucinda Williams, but it’s snail pace and out of place female vocals don’t catch on.
After a row of mediocre tracks this is the point in the record where you think you’ve lost hope. But don’t be fooled. The electric sound is back for “Epistemology” which has narrative lyrics and a catchy tune. “Blake’s View” takes it down a notch as far as tempo but the lyrical content is heavy handed and depressing. Before closing out the record with an instrumental “Outro” M. Ward brings us “Shangri-La” which is a lighter track with a driving acoustic riff that will leave you tapping your toe.
M. Ward is definitely a heavy hitter in the scene today and many of the songs on this record remind us why. Due to his rhaspy vocals and down tempo tracks this might not be one you can listen to all the way through but find your favorites and add them to the playlist of your choice.