M. Ward

Post-War

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Laconic California indie minstrel M. Ward's fifth offering is a thrift shop photo album filled with histories that may or may not have been, dust bowl carnival rides, and slices of sunlit Western Americana so thick that you need a broom to sweep up the bits that fall off of the knife. Ward makes records that sound like he just wandered in off the street with a few friends and hit the record button, but what would feel lazy and unfocused in less confident hands comes off like a tutorial in old-school songwriting and performance that hearkens back to the days of Hank Williams and Leadbelly if they had had access to a modern-day studio. Post-War is not only Ward's best effort yet, it's one of the best records of the year. While his distinctive half-second-delay drawl assumes its usual position as the ghostly broadcast from a more sepia-toned time, the production is far grander than on his previous outings. Opener "Poison Cup," sounding for what it's worth like a cross between the Walker Brothers' "Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" and an outtake from Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue, kicks things off with sneaky keyboard strings that fade into the real deal, reaching elegiac heights by the diminutive track's end. A catchy cover of Daniel Johnston's "To Go Home" features guest vocalist Neko Case breathing fire into the choruses with her trademark howl, the rowdy "Requiem" sounds like a Tom Waits version of Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls," and the peerless "Magic Trick," with its brilliant refrain of "She's got one magic trick/just one and that's it/she disappears," kicks off a suite of tunes that snake their way through to the album's end like a shot of Apple Jack. Like early Pavement, Ward knows how to make sloppy sound succinct, and it's that magic mix of earnestness and apathy that makes Post-War the secret bounty that it is.

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