A Wasteland Companion

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Reviewers instinctually jump for the experimental, the shocking and the controversial. Albums that are either heart-stopping masterpieces or cringe inducing failures are what the humble music reviewer dreams of. They want something to either praise to high heaven or crush into the ground. Sadly, M. Ward’s A Wasteland Companion isn’t one of those albums. The singer-songwriters seventh album is one of quiet crooning and contemplative guitar plucking, and it fails to get anywhere extremely enjoyable or wholly detestable. The first two songs of the album demonstrate the good and the bad. The album begins with one of its highlights, “Clean Slate (For Alex and El Goodo)”. This song is an example of A Wasteland Companion at its best: slow and soft vocals sung over earthy guitar. It succeeds with the rewarding and catchy instrumental interludes and subtle harmonies. “Primitive Girl” follows, with boring lyrics and even more boring piano-based pop set-up. Ward’s voice simply isn’t suited for this type of music, and it feels out of place after the quiet success of “Clean Slate”. Ward’s She and Him band mate and perpetually quirky indie favourite Zooey Deschanel joins to contribute vocals on “Me and My Shadow” and “Sweetheart”. The former features nice harmonies from Zooey and includes a part played on an unusually distorted guitar. Both are nice additions, but Zooey doesn’t add much and the guitar doesn’t make as big of an impact as it could, especially in a largely acoustic album. Ward’s best songs are the ones that include his gentle and complex finger picking style. “Clean Slate”, “There’s A Key”, and “Pure Joy” all get by on just Ward’s guitar and voice, demonstrating his vocal and song writing abilities. It’s only when he edges into pop blandness (“Primitive Girl”, “Sweetheart”, “I Get Ideas”) that he loses his draw. However, his choice of instrumentation beyond his guitar is more than welcome on album highlight “Wild Goose,” which features dreamy piano and strings and is reminiscent of Fleet Foxes. While I appreciate the fact that M. Ward doesn’t sedate the listener with acoustic folk songs, one after another, most of his other ideas don’t work. “Primitive Girl” and “I Get Ideas” are hard to listen to, which is a shame considering some of the better tracks on the album. However, in the end, neither the good parts nor the bad parts outweigh each other. A Wasteland Companion as a whole just feels a bit tiring.