Tonight (Tuesday, Feb. 17), M. Ward plays a special acoustic session for WNYC and NPR Music. He'll perform a few songs from Hold Time and discuss the album in a live Web chat. Hear it here:
NPR Music is streaming the entirety of M. Ward's new album in our Exclusive First Listen series. You can hear the music through Wednesday, Feb. 18 here:
M. Ward's new album, Hold Time, is his sixth.
Matt Ward, better known as M. Ward, is a singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer from Portland, Ore. With a whisper of a voice and a well-developed style of acoustic guitar playing, he could easily be pegged as a folk singer — and he did come up through Portland's folk scene. But his sixth album, Hold Time, points in many musical directions.
When Ward writes songs, he takes bits of his earliest 4-track recordings and mixes them up with newer material. Just as he travels back and forth across his own creative timeline, he moves deftly through the history of rock, country, blues and pop.
Ward's new album is filled with musical touchstones and lyrical references. On "Never Had Nobody Like You," a Gary Glitter beat, fuzzed-out guitar and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon meet Ward's most recent musical project, an indie-pop band with actress Zooey Deschanel called She & Him. (Here, Deschanel sings the harmonies.)
Ward doesn't only look to the past for songwriting inspiration. On his new CD, he reimagines a song that was a hit for Buddy Holly. Many artists have covered "Rave On," but Ward inverts it, replacing Holly's original rock 'n' roll hiccup with sunny, Brian Wilson-style studio immersion. He completely changes the nature of the song in an appealing way. A skillful guitar picker, Ward underplays here, and it serves the song perfectly.
For someone so good at mastering the signature details of songs and genres, the challenge is putting it all into something that sounds original and consistent, making it just opaque enough to create mystery while acknowledging the legends. M. Ward has gotten that down to an art, if not a science.