New M. Ward album travels through different times

Pitchforks: 3.5/5

Record Label: Merge Records

M. Ward’s newest solo album “A Wasteland Companion” begins with “Clean Slate,” a slow folk-like acoustic song that serves listeners his timeless rock ‘n’ roll style. The introductory song sets the tone for the rest of the album, showing he wants to stand out on his own and no longer be in the shadow of his successful side projects.

However, “A Wasteland Companion” simply sounds like a combination of his other two projects, She & Him and Monsters of Folk.

She & Him, a well-known doo-wop indie duo comprised of M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel, aims to bring back the golden age of rock music. The group harmonizes like The Beach Boys with Deschanel belting it out with vocals similar to those of The Ronettes.

Ward clearly influences the band’s sound when his solo efforts are heard. In his new album, Deschanel makes an appearance to sing lines in “Sweetheart,” a song whose title gives away what sort of bubble-gum, late 1950s pop is featured on the track. “Sweetheart” practically makes you get up and hand-jive.

Ward displays his darker rock ‘n’ roll abilities in “Me and My Shadow,” one of the hardest hitting tracks on the album, when he roughly jams and sings with zeal. Beginning with a slower pace, Ward suddenly attacks his guitar as if he is frustrated with the direction the song is going. But apparently he’s mad at “the mockingbird” that “ain’t no innovator.”

Ward makes another vintage-inspired song with “I Get Ideas,” a cover of a famous Louis Armstrong song. He speeds up the tempo of the original and adds an element of his favorite rock sound, complete with guitar solos and a voice that melts a heart the way Elvis’ crooning does.

Then there is the underlying Monsters of Folk sound throughout the work. One of the coolest indie supergroups formed in the past few years, Monsters of Folk consists of Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis, Ward and Jim James to form a band that spirits a folk revivalist sound. Ward has always sounded like a folk artist, creating songs that speak truth through stories and metaphors. The album’s single “The First Time I Ran Away” is a hypnotic song that goes straight to your insides, causing your bones to shake and your skin to tingle.

Ward’s folk songs are the most poignant on the album.

“I’m losin’ my marbles/ one marble at a time,” Ward sings in “There’s a Key.”

The phrase defines folk-rock culture, sounding like something Johnny Cash would have sung back in his day.

Compared to She & Him and Monster of Folk, Ward’s previous solo work is underrated. Ward has a style that influences both groups and the combination of sound weaves a beautiful folk-rock tapestry in “A Wasteland Companion.”

Don’t expect to be blown away by this particular album, but do anticipate having the tunes pleasantly wrap around you as you drift to sleep.

Reach the reporter at Jocelyn.Gee@asu.edu

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