M. Ward: Hold Time

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It’s little wonder that M. Ward has collected so many favorable associations (Bright Eyes, MMJ’s Jim James) and even more au courant accolades. As displayed on his new album Hold Time, he writes sings and plays as if inhabiting his own peculiar universe.

If that sounds like the definition of a great visionary artist, then so be it. In a song like “Beginners,” Ward puts a filter on our perception of the world as much in his performance as his composition, so that we see it in great depth and detail. Even the more lighthearted gently rocking likes of “Ain’t Never Had Nobody Like You,” featuring the wan ghostlike harmony vocals of Zooey Deschanel (Ward’s female co-star in She and Him) radiates an ambiguity that works to positive effect: it’s impossible to take the sentiment in the title at face value, but you can’t quite utterly dismiss it either and it haunts.    

As does most of Hold Time, including its title song, due in large measure to the heavy echo applied to Ward’s voice. Of course, if his phrasing weren’t so idiosyncratic, the effect wouldn’t be so dramatic or so complementary to the orchestrated fog that surrounds the artist’s vocal. Nor would it work so well in contrast to the simplicity of the acoustic finger picking that dominates “Rave On;” a dreamlike quality permeates much of the cd, whether in a folk mode like the latter Buddy Holly cover or the boogie-woogie blues blend that is “To Save Me.”
 
That said, this music might prove to be as addictive as the catchiest pop. The hooks in the material sink in almost imperceptibly, giving the title of the album a wholly different meaning than the most obvious one. This elusive interpretation is wholly in keeping with the chameleonic likes of M. Ward himself.

Hold Time – M. Ward

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