In these soundbite, chicken twizzler, blipvert, zoomtastic times attention spans are not encouraged to last that long. Possibly my advancing years (and receding ears) may be seeking sanctuary in the past where music was organic, people weren’t made of plastic and vinyl was king. So it’s a rare thing to find an album that is a real, unexpected pleasure to listen to all the way through.
Arriving around the same time as those other dustbowl quirk-outs Jim White, Bright Eyes, Sufjan Stevens, Iron and Wine and Wilco, M Ward set out his acoustic stall unassumingly with a debut that hinted at the what he was about with the gentle unpicking of David Bowie‘s Let’s Dance into something truly emotional stripped of the strut and plastic sheen of the original.
Matt Ward and his out-of-step muse return with Post-War, created in his attic and bearing the marks of his laboring and polishing any rough edges of this curio to leave a concise nugget of distilled musical gold. This, his fifth album, sees Matt corralling his touring band (including Neko Case) into making his ‘first band record’ and a wholesome organic thing it is too. Ruddy-faced health, bon homie and a sense of ‘oomph’ ooze from every pore and note. Here there is more delight in the dusty, sepia-tinged and overlooked to create something that sparkles in its own little way like a dewy cobweb you can’t help revisiting.
Post-War is a record full of textures, with Matt’s grainy, brushed, lived-in voice cooing, rasping with a clipped echo lending it a nostalgic lightness of touch. Poison Cup grows like a weed from guitar and voice into a timpani drum big band flourish. To Go Home with its Arcade Fire density as the chords crash into each gloriously and making exhortations that ‘God, it’s great to be alive…to think I have to give it up someday’ sound like a Coca-Cola advert that won’t make your teeth rot.
Title track Post-War busks a soul beat that curls around a cigarette-ash organ and tipsy slide guitar, similar to the fagged-out bliss of Eyes on The Prize. To Go Home reverses his let’s Dance trick by taking a delicate Daniel Johnston song and getting it drunk and taking it for a honky-tonk barndance. Magic Trick’s crowd noises add to the sense of traveling show with its rolling rambunctious good times. Requiem’s eulogy to an unknown whose ‘heart was stronger than a heavy metal bullet’ bears a metal solo in its midst.
Covering themes of madness, doubt, loss and remembering it could be a glum navel-gazing fest, but in Ward’s hands there’s always a sense of optimism in the country-blues flow of chords and the pull and push of organic instrumentation. This is given full rein on the instrumental Neptune’s Net and the stripped back honky-tonk of Rollercoaster which seems beamed in from a forgotten time.
If those other (missing) mystery white boys Elliott Smith, Jeff Buckley and Kurt Cobain had moved to the country, and found some inner peace this could be the kind of music they could have produced. Easy-going, timeless music drawing from a heritage that is held up in amber as a thing of awe and added to from a modern perspective. The aching bad times don’t sound so bad when they keep such good company.