HUMAN BEINGS are constantly subject to the slightest changes in the atmosphere. Perhaps, then, humans should always be ready to get up and go at any moment. Somewhere within the confines of our tidy homes, there should be an overnight bag, packed and waiting. And while we might fear that bag's presence in our life, it should also be something that keeps us going, and keeps us ready. That's the operative power of M. Ward's seventh studio album, A Wasteland Companion. It was made in different studios across the US and England, and it documents what happens when you travel far enough outside your comfort zone.
For whatever reason, Ward has long been portrayed as an introvert and a Luddite. In 2009, when Hold Time was released, the New York Times profiled him and painted a vivid picture of a man frozen in time. There was Ward in his creaky Portland sanitarium, hovering among tangled tape reels, hoarded vintage instruments, and record shelves full of music that had "weathered storms." However, with the past few years' expansion of his musical reach—due largely to the nature and success of She & Him, his duo with actress Zooey Deschanel—Ward has been tossed into the life of a jetsetter. "I typically play about four shows a month in various places, which I guess makes me more of a weekend warrior," says Ward.
A Wasteland Companion carefully logs and reenacts the upheaval of the past three years—perhaps not explicitly, because Ward is not one for penning the most literal folk songs, but in the oscillating mood that the album creates as a whole. For instance, the opening song, "Clean Slate" (which is a tribute to Alex Chilton), strolls through crisp and calm air, while the following track, "Primitive Girl," carries a frenetic, impulsive energy; it's the difference from one day to the next.
Ward says, "I feel that I'm constantly trying to find the balance between dark and light, in the way that a great photograph does. My records are a way for me to organize and present that balance. So if the records are sounding more personal and organized, I think that's a good thing."