M. Ward - Post-War

Holly Barnes 27/12/2006

Rating: 4/5

M. Ward's Post-War album of this year locates itself by name, if not explicitly by lyrical content, as following large-scale conflict. But while the Iraq War, or the 'war on terrorism' may immediately spring to mind, it wouldn't be too far a stretch to think, instead, of post-World War II, or post-Vietnam War. Indeed, the soft, fuzzed production style carried on from Ward's previous release Transistor Radio, recalls those non-specific 'days-gone-by', while To Go Home, a slinking Daniel Johnston cover, has the kind of backing vocals that could call to mind the folk songs of post-Vietnam War America. Death, the by-product of war, is hardly missing from the album; but Requiem is unexpectedly one of the most upbeat and lively songs on the record. M. Ward exclaims that “He was a good man and now he's gone” in what sounds like a hearty celebration of life.

However, the conflict in question may not be the large-scale war it suggests, but instead an inner turmoil now conquered, or at least held at bay. This conflict may be regarding mental health, or that perennial hazard, relationships. Right In The Head boasts double-tracked vocals, not quite lined up together, giving a slightly hazy, slightly angry, schizophrenic feel as the song questions someone's sanity. Album opener Poison Cup, with its repeated calls to “Wine, wine” spends half its time lamenting the effects of alcohol, the other half remembering a lost love. Rollercoaster gives the listener a vague idea of tumultuous relationships, while Chinese Translation asks chirpily “What do you do with the pieces of a broken heart?” as it rolls along. But in dealing with the conflicts in question, the album, particularly title track, Post-War, has an optimistically reflective outlook, as if savouring the calm after the crisis- however small or large it turned out to be.

Perhaps the whole idea is that M. Ward, in making Post-War, was pre-occupied with both: the nature of large-scale conflicts, existing simultaneously with the crises inherent in each ordinary person's everyday life. The way he transports the listener through different times in history only adds to the notion of these two types of conflict being nothing new. But these ideas aren't foregrounded: I press play and these things don't immediately jump into my mind. It's after reflecting for a while that I realise the depth of thought and feeling that has invariably gone into Post-War. While listening my mind is instead awash with images conjured by the, frankly beautiful, music. Ward's voice, as well, is amazing; a splendidly bluesy voice that aches- it sounds like it carries centuries of American history with it. Lying between the notes of his melodies are the banks of the many long, winding rivers of Oregon (where Ward hails from). Post-War is the music of back porches in the deep South, rowdy bar rooms with wooden floors and pianos whose keys are like chattering teeth and band stands in sleepy backwater towns.

To make a rather crude comparison, M. Ward is the male Cat Power, with (dare I say it?) greater consistency. This is all no major departure from Transistor Radio, but it is with a more confident, full sound: he makes the most of his guests Neko Case and Jim James of My Morning Jacket. Also, there are fewer covers here (from 4 down to 1), leaving room for more of Ward's own idiosyncratic song-writing- which can only be a good thing.