Twelve tracks, eighteen musicians and eight different utilized studios is the breakdown for M. Ward’s 8th newest album “A Wasteland Companion”, which was released April 10th through Merge Records. He has referenced it as a “musical travelogue”, as he recorded in different states as well as a stop in England, and to a certain extent letting those places effect the work.
M. Ward shares his many talents on his 8th studio album, (his first in three years) which include producing, arranging, singing and playing the piano and the guitar. He has a lot of assistance however; while it’s technically a solo album many of his talented friends and peers make appearances. The eighteen other musicians that have joined him provide vocals, bass, percussion, organ, violin, and marimba. Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley is among the mix, as well as Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis, Oakley Hall’s Rachel Cox, and Zooey Deschanel. Zooey also joins M. Ward as the “She” half of his group She & Him. Ward also makes music with a third group, Monsters of Folk.
His musical influence in childhood came from listening to gospel, country, and classical music, and he recalls Johnny Cash specifically. He has been cited as saying “One of the great things about music is that it has the capability to time travel…you smell a certain smell in the room and it takes you back to your childhood. I feel like music is able to do that, and it happens to me all the time.” Through layers of arrangement there seems to be use of sense memory in his songs, or at least that they hope to become some. While often drawing heavy on guitar, this new album adds a mix of ballads as well as giant swing pop.
The first single off the album is entitled “The First Time I Ran Away”, which has an accompanying animated video following, of course, a young runaway. It’s quite upbeat for mentioning hearing “voices in the storm” and whatnot, and the animated feature fits perfectly. Musically the jam could literally lend to a child’s film, as an adult listener the lyrics go deeper. Some songs hit harder than others but the variety of styles and sounds on Wasteland is an appealing blend. As you might expect from a highly passionate artist who limits camera usage at his concerts, the album is cerebral but also retains a theatrical air, a gift given liberally to the listener.
Check out the video for “The First Time I Ran Away” below & catch M. Ward live at Coachella!