"A Wasteland Companion" adds another layer to Ward’s catalog of melancholy, gospel-folk upon which he’s crafted a signature sound.

M. Ward
A Wasteland Companion

Fans of folk journeyman and indie icon, M. Ward, have been eagerly awaiting a new solo release since 2009’s Hold Time. In the time since, Ward has collaborated with the likes of Zooey Deschanel and is one fourth of the supergroup Monsters of Folk with Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes), and Jim James (My Morning Jacket). A Wasteland Companion adds another layer to Ward’s catalog of melancholy, gospel-folk upon which he’s crafted a signature sound.

Ward’s legend has been built on a seamless juxtaposition of honest roots music with toe-tapping vintage twang. Opening track “Clean Slate” exhibits the former with honey-soaked, ethereal vocals that dance over minimal instrumentation. But the album’s next three tracks head in an electric direction. Ward makes a flawless transition between melodious acoustic guitar and soaked, heavy fuzz on the rousing, “Me and My Shadow,” which introduces Deschanel on background vocals. The grunge is brilliantly balanced against Motown-esque harmonies and a pulsing Rhodes. The final three tracks are the Portland native in his element: haunting, beautiful, and simple. “Crawl After You” and “Pure Joy” are classic Ward, with solemn strumming and reserved—but always musical— strings and piano.

Aside from its all-star cast, myriad lyrical themes, and sweeping sonic palette, what stands out most is Ward’s ability to write near-perfect songs. A Wasteland Companion recenters Ward as a solo artist and one of the premier folk crooners of his generation. A long-awaited release and a worthy listen, it delivers exactly what fans have been craving while continuing to push the envelope of the genre he has done so much to foster. —Luke Viertel

Must-hear tracks: “Me and My Shadow,” “Pure Joy”

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