Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Early Verdict on M. Ward's Latest (With Thanks to NPR)

Forget about Social Security, NPR is the federal government's gift that keeps on giving. Earlier this month, gave us exclusive peeks into new albums from Animal Collective and Bruce Springsteen, streaming them before they were released. Now it's M. Ward's turn. His upcoming Hold Time isn't due out until Feb. 17, so this is a welcome teaser for us overanxious fans.

This album, for better or for worse, establishes Ward's new, post-She & Him identity. It's Matt 2.0. He's smoother around the edges, less ethereal, and just a happier dude. That's not to say Hold Time isn't a collection of beautiful songs--it is. Just don't expect the type of sounds or emotional jolts we got from Transfiguration of Vincent. This album is at once an amalgam of his past work and another step down the path Ward chose on 2006's Post-War, his most accessible work to date.

The angst that once bred almost entire albums of beautiful, acoustic meanderings (read: the underrated Duet for Guitars #2 and the unassumingly striking End of Amnesia) has taken a back seat. And Hold Time seems to confirm that the dreamy, downtrodden fantasy world that made Transfiguration of Vincent a classic -- all full of theremin and distant, Tom Waits-style, honky-tonk piano -- won't be showing up again any time soon.

Even Hold Time's acoustic-only tunes, like the love ditty "One Hundred Million Years," feel lively rather than weary, more reminiscent of Post-War's almost danceable "Chinese Translation" than, say, Transfiguration's rending, defeatist "Undertaker."

Ward has moved away a bit from that otherworldly gloaming that gave his first four albums their appeal, but in doing so he's opened up. This makes for Hold Time's most intriguing element: lyrically, Ward is showing us more of himself, and he's doing it with a characteristically philosophical contemplativeness. "I watched my own habits die hard and it was painful / Sometimes it's painful in the light of the truth," he sings on "Never Had Nobody Like You."

The jury is still out on this one -- twelve angry men waiting on a CD-quality listen. For now let's just be grateful for NPR as we wait for the real thing.
  • Click here to watch the new music video to Hold Time's most remarkable song, the tantalizingly brief, haze-encased title track.
  • Click here to find a free download of the mp3 of the electric, rollicking "Never Had Nobody Like You." (Just click the "Download free MP3 now!" button and select, "Save Linked File.")

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