Strange title: makes you wonder what he means. Though the words to M Ward's cover
of Daniel Johnston's "To Go Home" may get to the bone of it: "God it's
great to be alive/ It takes the skin right off my hide/ To think I'll
have to give it all up someday."
Fifth album in, Ward advances on oft-made comparisons to Nick Drake and Tom Waits with his own sleepy-voiced blend of upbeat melancholy and gravelly dreaminess. It's a paper-against-comb tone that seduces, Beth Orton and Norah Jones lately making use of it for their recordings, Neko Case joining him here. Ward plays an acoustic as if it were flashing water, strikes Dylan '63 poses in concert, comes on with a cap over his eyes and a sly grin, playing wintery piano with a ragtime fumble when the mood takes him. His songs are profoundly embedded in American cultural history: the blues, the birth of the radio and the jukebox, the popular love song, wrapped in a peculiar ability to sound like a 1920s crooner, a 1940s folkie and a 21st century ambient explorer all at once. His time-out-of mind brilliance also has a strong literary dimension, as such acknowledged Post-War influences as Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises and Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five suggest.
Post-War is already attracting attention as Ward's first full "band" album hell,
even as his party record. There's more body here, more barroom spill and rollick.
There's also a feeling Ward is pushing at the fabric of his music, trying to
expand and progress. But the same cinematic mist hovers, the same old, old intimacy
fans know well, along with the cumulative significance of his records, a run
documents that now point to him as a major artist. It may sound weird to say
Ward's the finest ghost in modern music today, and for that we should be thankful.
Which means this party's haunted, yet somehow reassuring: a wake, I guess, for
those dead coming home, whatever shape they're in.