Ward’s cover of Louis Armstrong’s “I Get Ideas” is the most perplexing track of the album. In one listen, I love the tune and want to start it over to listen again from the beginning. In another, however, I hear moments where it seems Ward is attempting to channel Armstrong, emulating the latter’s legendary and unmistakable vocal qualities and I find this distracting. But then I play it again and am, again, in love with the track.
The album’s current single, “The First Time I Ran Away,” boasts a beautifully mournful, animated video directed by Joel Trussell. The melody is soft, ethereal, and almost melancholic—it reminds me in some ways of a handful of tracks from Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie… release. Meanwhile, the story in the lyrics tells a whimsical fantasy tale of warriors on a train and voices in the stars. It comes together at the end with a declaration that the next time the narrator runs away, he wants it to be with the "you" to whom the song is written.
Track 10 of A Wasteland Companion, “Crawl After You,” takes Ward out from behind his guitar and puts him before a piano for another classic sound that could have been written in any other decade and succeeded in all of them. Enter Amanda Lawrence and DeVotchka’s Tom Hagerman on strings halfway through and that classicality is solidified tenfold.
The album is brief, with 12 tracks in 36 minutes of total play time due in part to the brevity of the tracks which average two and a half minutes long; only a third of the tracks stretch past the three-minute mark. Brevity is often seen as a refined skill, one that often has very clear-cut results. Either the attempt succeeds in very dramatic ways or it falls short, leaving the audience unsatisfied and seeking resolution. M. Ward’s short tracks have landed in the former group, each tiny track wrought with so much imagination and musicality that they don’t feel at all truncated.
A Wasteland Companion will be available in mp3, CD, and vinyl formats from most major retailers April 10, 2012.