Tuesday, February 17, 2009

M. Ward - Hold Time

Hold Time, M. Ward's 5th album release on Merge Records, is a manifestation of the enduring attributes of music. Blending folk, rock, and country, Ward transports the listener into some indeterminable yet familiar decade in America's past. Perhaps it's this mystical confusion that is so intriguing about Hold Time (and is likely to be intentional given the name of the album).

Ward entered the indie folk-rock music scene a decade ago when he released Duet for Guitars #2 in 1999. But only lately has he become a mainstream figure. In 2008 he joined forces with actress-turned-musician Zooey Deschanel to form the retro-pop duo She & Him (their album, Volume #1, was deemed the best album of 2008 by Paste magazine). Deschanel accompanies Ward on two tracks on Hold Time, as do other popular names such as folk country star Lucinda Williams and ex-Grandaddy bandmate Jason Lytle.

At first listen, highlights include "Never Had Nobody Like You", the glam-rock love song featuring Deschanel, and a relaxed version of Buddy Holly's "Rave On". But after another listen or two, some real gems begin to shine. The title track lingers slowly as strings eloquently back up Ward's reverberating crooning. The crawling pace seems to slow down time, once again messing with the listener's space-time continuum...or, whatever, you know what I mean. The song's layering is so thick with humidity I swear my headphones began to drip condensation.

Another hidden favorite is the groovin' "Epistemology", led by a steady bass/snare rhythm, some more well-placed strings, and Ward's humble lyrics about his musical beginnings: "Cause I just rolled and I tumbled / down a long road I stumbled / While shooting in the dark as to what's best / And finally, I found you / Without ever learning how to." The lyrics in this song are somewhat confusing though, considering Ward's dependence on music of the past.

The apparent simplicity of Hold Time tends to overshadow Ward's often-complex songwriting and clever lyrics. His attachment to anything and everything antique is self-evident throughout his discography, and Ward continues to hold true to his love for previous eras of traditional America on this one. To get a better grasp on where he's coming from, I recommend digging deeper into some of his older, and might I say better albums first. There's no question, however, that he has a firm grasp on the roots of American music, and no better troubadour to deliver such fine music than M. Ward.


Music video for "Hold Time", directed by M. Ward.

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