||A Wasteland Companion
||6 April 2012
Highly touted indie-folkist and collaborator extrodinaire M Ward (Matthew Stephen Ward) delivers his seventh solo album with his A Wasteland Compilation offering.
Making his name on the music scene of Portland Orgeon, where from Elliot Smith went on to achieve such acclaim, Ward's post-modern acoustic ballads occasionally resonate a similar bittersweet charm. Unfortunately such moments are too few and too fleeting in this particular collection.
Ward may be best known to some for his many high-profile collaborations. His most frequent being alongside Conor Oberst, be that under the guise of; Bright Eyes, Monsters Of Folk or with Oberst's solo work. Ward has also collaborated with Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody and their effort Tired Pony (a record reviewed by this humble scribe). Perhaps the quirkiest of all of his collaborations comes alongside actress Zooey Deschanel (500 Days of Summer) under the name She & Him, and particularly their 2011 Christmas album. Kid you I do not.
Suffice to say, amongst those in the know, M Ward is a popular boy. However there has been a feeling that when it comes to his own work Ward's solo albums can be a bit hit and miss.
On A Wasteland Compilation we find the expected mix of alt-country style thigh-slappers as well as the more reflective and introspective folk material. And although among the twelve tracks on offer there are bright sparks, overall the record never really illuminates.
The opening track 'Clean Slate' gives a very deliberately slow beginning to the album, but its bare charm and simple but effective melody had me smiling wryly for some reason while listening to it! 'Crawl After You' builds on this as piano and other instruments begin to flesh things out, without ever really arresting you. Some of the other slower songs on the record simply fall short when it comes to offering anything memorable enough to get excited about, which is in truth the overall failing of this album.
However, 'Pure Joy' is the one stand out track in this mould that delivers a memorable melody with undoubtedly the best vocal performance on the album. Mixing in some falsetto singing with his more traditional freeze-dried vocals, Ward shows the kind of quality here that is too often absent elsewhere. A lovely number.
When the tone of the songs aren't quite so timid, Ward produces two moments of more flippant enjoyment with 'Sweetheart' and particularly 'I Get Ideas' as their male/female vocal and barn-dance feel again make you wish you weren't so hungrily searching for bites of fleshy enjoyment from an otherwise tepid and bare carcass.
Overall A Wasteland Compilation is a bit of a letdown. Whilst he has clearly mixed in the right circles and featured on many quality albums over the past years, this effort feels like a missed opportunity. I was waiting to be bedazzled, but I was ultimately left cold.