Singer-songwriter M. Ward is perhaps best known as the Y-chromosome half of She and Him, his twee collaboration with indie ingenue Zooey Deschanel. Their work has proved polarizing: To some, their records are pleasant diversions, while others find the content slapdash and superficial. Regardless, it would be a shame if Ward’s work were principally viewed through this prism. As his latest solo album, “A Wasteland Companion,” ably demonstrates, he is a big-league songwriter capable of rendering contemplative musings, catchy pop songs and unabashed trad-rock gestures.
Ward is a musical polymath with a broad strain of diverse influences. Album opener “Clean Slate (For Alex and El Goodo)” is a quiet elegy for the late power-pop icon Alex Chilton, halting and shimmering in the manner of a great Big Star ballad. Ward feels equally comfortable with the raucous and ramshackle. The good-humored “I Get Ideas,” seems like an off-kilter take on “The Sun Sessions,” performed with the passion and genuine affinity that the Modern Lovers brought to their take on old-time rock-and-roll.
Other highlights abound. The tense, last-minutes-of-life vignette “Watch the Show” tells the story of a media-industry hack on the verge of a breakdown and is reminiscent of the Replacements’ great suicide anthem, “The Ledge.” And the interplay between the skillfully fingerpicked guitar and lush strings on “The First Time I Ran Away” recollects Nick Drake.
Ward has always had the seasoned aesthetics of a passionate record junkie, and “A Wasteland Companion” finds him exploring his inspirations in thrilling ways. It is perhaps the best release from one of our most exciting purveyors of contemporary song.
“I Get Ideas,” “Primitive Girl,” “Watch the Show”