M Ward – Hold Time

m-ward-hold-time

M Ward - Hold Time

So busy with his extracurricular commitments these days – notably as the male half of She & Him and as a production aide for the likes of Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis – Matt Ward’s own solo career almost feels like it’s the side-project, not the day-job.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing however; as it has allowed Ward to both develop his muse piecemeal without over-exposure and to call in favours from his higher-profile collaborators.  It’s a modus operandi that Ward builds on strongly, if somewhat awkwardly, for this sixth album.

Picking-up things aesthetically where 2006’s justifiably-praised Post-War left-off, Hold Time is certainly the biggest and widest sounding release in Ward’s repertoire to date.  From the bucolic strum of “For Beginners” inwards, he strides in confidently with a buoyant briskness and fulsome production values that sustain most of the LP’s hearty first-half.  Thus, in the starter piece’s afterglow we have the delightful Zooey Deschanel-assisted “Never Had Nobody Like You” driven by an early-T-Rex glam-boogie stomp; the soaring strings-gilded glide of “Jailbird”; the momentarily-pausing slow-mo title-track; a swooning harmony-saturated reconstruction of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On”; and the terrific turbo-charged Beach Boys-homage of “To Save Me.”

Wisely recognising the slightly-overwhelming density of the opening six selections, with “One Hundred Million Years” Ward strips things right back to his cherishable lo-fi acoustic core.  But having rammed on the brakes rather abruptly, the second part of the album is noticeably deprived of momentum and rigorous cohesiveness.  Hence, “Stars of Leo” is the charming side of crescendo-stirring, as is the Sun Records-style rockabilly flexing of “Fisher of Men,” but a sparsely-constructed cover of Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me” is rendered inert by husky ill-matched duetting vocals from Lucinda Williams.  The ensuing “Epistemology” then meanders into over-cluttered studio layers whilst the thinned-out “Blake’s View” just feels a little unfinished.  Thankfully, the unplugged wispiness of “Shangri-La” and the wordless John Barry-via-Ennio Morricone re-make of the Frank Sinatra standard “I’m A Fool To Want You” help to reach the rolling of the end credits with redemptive calmness and gravitas.

Ultimately, Hold Time could have undoubtedly benefitted from some more stringent self-editing, not-so top-heavy sequencing and greater deliberations over the guest list, to make it stand-up as tall as its more meticulously-framed predecessors.  Nevertheless, this is still another reliably robust M Ward record with much to recommend itself, especially to the previously-converted.

(Territorial Release Note: Hold Time is available on Merge in the US and via 4AD for the UK & Europe.)