M. Ward - Post-War
After M. Ward's previous album, "Transistor Radio", his homage to the golden age of radio, you'd wonder where he'd travel to next. His fifth studio album is a much more contemporary affair, seemingly affected by the current World situation, it's not a call to arms but a celebration of being alive and of living life to the fullest extent that you can, of making the most of the short time you have here.
This is also his first album with a proper band and this has fleshed out his usually sparse songs into something more robust and tangible and yet still retaining the beauty of his song writing. He's also got a couple of high profile guests too with Neko Case, Jim James and Adam Selzer all turning up to provide vocals and instrumentation.
The album kicks off with "Poison Cup" and a cover of Daniel Johnston's "To Go Home". The room fills with glorious sounds and the rich texture of Ward's voice - dusky, well-weathered and yet uplifting and joyful - all arranged beautifully, the production loose and free allowing everything to breath and, especially with "To Go Home", bounce along at a considerable pace.
The title track is another intricately beautiful song, beginning with sparse drums and organ, Ward's hushed singing just floating over the music, "I know everything feels wrong / I've got some hard, hard proof in this song" feels like a knowing wink in the direction of the government, and yet the record doesn't feel overly political. The themes and certain lyrics are, but it's restrained without losing any of its power. The true highlight here is "Chinese Translation" and its tale of a quest to find an oracle of wisdom to ask questions that might seem initially simple but are utterly complex; "what do you do with the pieces of a broken heart?", "how can a man like me remain in the light?", "if life is really is as short as they say, then why in the night so long?". They might not be questions perplexing all of us, yet there is something poignant about the latter.
"Magic Trick" maybe the only disappointing track here, with it's mock live crowd intro, it seems like a throw away bar song and feels just a little out of place and a touch filler. With the other songs all revealing a hidden depth on repeat listening, this song just seems like the comedy moment to lighten the mood. However, it's followed by "Neptune's Net" an ocean-tinged instrumental, simple in it's arrangement and yet joyful in its execution, it sounds not unlike The Shadows... but in a good way. Album closer "Afterword / Rag" sounds like a great lost recording from 40's or 50's America. Delicate acoustic guitars entwine in an instrumental that seems to ask questions about living in a post-War world and the new landscape created - ponderous yet still fulfilling.
All the songs are tinged with Ward's particular take on Folk and Americana, all the songs seem drenched in a history merged from different influences to create an almost alternative history. One where Ward has ruled and popularised music that has been long forgotten, lost in the murky depths of some dusty and dark library.
M. Ward sings "God it's great to be alive" at the end of "To Go Home" and, listening to this album, you can do nothing but agree.
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