M. Ward (photo by Wrenne Evans, PR)
Matthew Ward, better known as M. Ward, is one of rock music’s more inimitable artists. Since the release of his 1999 debut solo album, Duet for Guitars #2, this singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer has created his own acoustic and electric universe. He excels at a lo-fi, analog approach that shifts between sparse, complex, tuneful and jagged directions.
Ward's tenth album, Migration Stories, contemplates years of human journeys. On Migration Stories, which follows two years after his last album, What A Wonderful Industry, he draws upon many styles of American music, coupling folk, blues, country and a little rock and roll. His dreamy soundscapes flow like a stream-of-consciousness reveries.
Although the album's eleven songs are melodic and captivating, there's an undercurrent of unease. “Migration Of Souls," whch opens the album, is a late-night contemplation, combining simple acoustic guitar strumming, dashes of sax, and Ward's husky sigh. It's a cerebral musical trek through space and time — and into the afterlife.
“Heaven’s Nail And Hammer” conjures a languid nighttime setting with a canopy of stars floating above. Ward describes stars as holes in the sky, created by heaven’s hammer and nail. Like many songs on the album, the track drifts along the line that separates reality from a dream state.
“Independent Man” is another texturally deep track, lush with keyboards and evoking an after-midnight atmosphere. The uptempo “Unreal City” kicks up the album’s leisurely pace only, but a tranquil state of mind guides “Real Silence.” The desert is the setting in the cinematic “Along The Santa Fe Trail,” which sounds a bit like a strange meeting between Calexico and the Electric Light Orchestra, collaborating on the theme to an offbeat Western film.
Ward’s fine guitar playing defines the gently loping “Coyote Mary’s Traveling Show” and “Stevens’ Snow Man," an acoustic instrumental. Finally, like the early morning rays of sunlight, the tracks “Torch” and the instrumental “Rio Drone” close the album on an inspirational note.
Migration Stories was recorded in Montréal at Arcade Fire’s studio, and in London and Los Angeles.
Ward’s exceptional body of work has always leaned towards a less is more mindset, but Migration Stories is that simplicity perfected: this is one of his most beautiful and moving albums. During an era when a catastrophic pandemic has forced humans to stay put, no matter what other crisis lurks at home, there's a powerful impact to the immigration tales of Migration Stories.
M. Ward is also the subject of first FUV's "Quarantined Artists" Q&A series. In addition, Ward will livestream a performance from his home which WFUV will carry on Wednesday, April 8, at 2pm EDT via our Facebook page.