Looking back over a decade, it’s hard to put into words what I found so appealing about M. Ward’s music. I remember seeing the video for “Chinese Translation” way back in college and falling instantly in love. The music has qualities that you don’t find in many other artists. It’s ethereal and warm, full-bodied like a good craft beer, philosophical and wry. Playing an open-tuned guitar to create a sound unlike any other, M. Ward is instantly recognizable like a shattered bottle of Coke.
More Rain, his latest album from Merge Records offers up more of the same. On the face, this may seem like an insult, but for an artist like M. Ward, I think it might be the highest compliment. Many artists are lauded for how they morph between albums (Dylan to Bowie to Wilco), but there’s something to be said for artists that perfect a sound: The Nick Drakes, The Ramones, practically any folk artist that you can think of, and M. Ward. Critical acclaim follows—all of his metacritic scores from 2003 on are in a seven-point range.
Any number of the songs from More Rain could have been B-sides or alternates to albums past. The lead single, “The Girl From Conejo Valley” acts as a follow up to “Never Had Nobody Like You,” and in fact could have been called “Never Lost Nobody Like You.” “Pirate Dial” would have been just as at home on Post-War. And the reverse could easily be said about any song on any previous album finding inclusion on More Rain.
With an album like this, with an artist like this, the periodic whims become that much more pronounced over the baseline. M. Ward, a noted lover of fifties pop and early rock, seems to have developed a taste for the late sixties, early seventies when writing and producing this newest record. Bringing a glam rock, baroque pop feel to Side-A of this record a la T. Rex and Love (see “Time Won’t Wait,” “Confession” respectively), while Side-B has an Asylum Records thing going on, especially with the Jackson Browne-esque “Phenomenon.”
The main concern here is the tenor of each of his songs. Between More Rain and A Wasteland Companion, there’s been a shift from the optimism of the previous albums to a slight pessimism. M. Ward has always shadowed that line brilliantly in his music, but this album officially put the glass half empty. The title says it all. More Rain means that it’s been raining and it’s going to continue to rain. Contrast that with a title like Post-War suggesting a peacetime accord. Before it was Hold Time, now it’s “Time Won’t Wait.”
The one thing I thought was missing (and had written in an earlier version of this album review) was a cover song. As it turns out, I was wrong (and embarrassingly so) because the track “You’re So Good To Me” is, in fact, the very same that Beach Boys wrote and recorded fifty years ago. While I hate to admit that I got this one wrong, it says something to his power as an artist. He just gets something at the core of whatever song he’s covering and makes it an M. Ward track.
That is M. Ward though. He gets deep down to the core of his music. That’s where the M. Ward sound lives. And because of that, he’s the only person that will ever make a record that sounds like Post-War, or Transfiguration of Vincent, or A Wasteland Companion. It may seem obvious, but M. Ward is the only one out there that can do M. Ward. He’s been making the same great album for nearly 20 years now. With More Rain, M. Ward gives us more of the same.
Article: Christopher Gilson