The past few years, music fans have gotten to know M. Ward for his associations. He’s one half of the duo She and Him with adorkable new girl Zooey Deschanel and a quarter of the Monsters of Folk with Louisville’s Jim James (as Yim Yames) of My Morning Jacket, Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and celebrated producer and journeyman Mike Mogis.
A Wasteland Companion reintroduces us to the Portland singer songwriter himself, and it’s something like walking through the home of a person with tremendous taste to match his talent. Ward is an indisputable terrific songwriter and distinctive performer. What sets him apart from most of his contemporaries with similar resumes is the thoughtful presentation of his tunes, whether it’s the spare setting of There’s a Key or the subtly threatening Watch the Show. The later evokes the sensation of waking up on the couch with the TV still on, with an atmospheric introduction that gains clarity as it goes on – and we wake up. Crawl After You, with Amanda Lawrence’s metronomic violin, is a beautiful blend of Ward’s Eastern and Midwestern influences filtered through a Portland sensibility.
Me and My Shadow hurtles through tunnels of compression at a breakneck speed and features one of two cameos by Deschanel. Mogis also sits in and presumably gave Ward some studio time as Mogis’ home base of Omaha is listed as one of eight locations where Ward recorded Wasteland Companion – eight studios in six cities on two continents. On the Merge Records website, Ward says the transient recording experience taught him what to take and what to leave behind.
The result is 12 songs with sharp focus by a musician we should know in his own right.