• Review

Album Review: Migration Stories - M. Ward

Few artists have been more captivating, for me, than M. Ward. A bunch of years ago I saw him on a VHS tape that had his Austin City Limits guest appearance on it. He played on a few songs with Bright Eyes / Conor Oberst. I had never heard anything like that before and being under the influence of some things I made sure to make a mental note of this guy’s name: M. Ward. It was probably that same weekend when we went to a Best Buy here in Cincinnati and low and behold what did they have sitting quietly singing to me on the shelf, his album Post War. From that point on I have bought every single album, I was hooked. The allure for me was the idiosyncratic guitar playing that I had never heard before on top of a vocal that almost seemed like a whisper, on some songs. It drew me in, and I have never looked back.

Fast forward like fourteenish years or so and here we are with Migration Stories. His tenth album excluding other projects. I was putting together a sausage, ham, egg, and cheese breakfast casserole while listening to the album. With all the things going on now the album was pleasant to listen to. One of things I truly enjoy about Matt’s albums are he will mix an instrumental or two into the album. Which makes each record unique, and flow like an album. Not just ten songs put onto an album. There is something larger at play with each M. Ward album. I don’t mean the message, maybe I do as well, rather I mean that each song seems to have purpose for being in the spot that it is. I totally understand that I am probably reading too far into it, and that he probably just sequenced it because it sounded good that way. I don’t have his phone number, nor do I have his email, but what I do have are two ears and it almost seemed effortless in how the album rocks and sways.

As I was listening, I was feeling at ease. The word meditation came into my head a lot. The album was pleasant through my ear canals. For the half hour I stood in my kitchen it was pleasant. This seems to be a theme lately with everything I’m listening to right now, but it’s true. Like some sort of magic trick, it drew me in, and I was able to escape for a little while, in my head and in my kitchen of course. As each song ticked down, I kept having the feeling like this album has the feel of one of his earlier albums End of Amnesia. Both have this sort of melancholic beauty to it. I also dug the reference to Slow Down Jo, from a Monsters of Folk record, but I have no way of knowing if that’s what he meant or not. That’s the beauty of the mystery of song. Nor, do I really want to know either.

Early on one of the things that drew me in, and still draws me into any M. Ward album is the guitar playing. I’m not entirely sure if he records the way he plays his live shows. Because at his live shows he will use a loop pedal so he can have multiple guitar sounds emanating from his amp and then play a solo or whatever he would like over the top of that. In the studio you don’t necessarily have to do this, but again the guitar playing is meditative man. This record especially. I could envision myself with this record just taking a drive with absolutely no destination in mind just to see where I can get while the album plays through my stereo.

If you have never heard of M. Ward, I would recommend picking this record up and taking a listen. Then go on the journey backwards through the immense catalogue he has created. He played on Bright Eyes’ ep for Cassadega called Four Winds and he played on the record as well. He was part of the Monsters of Folk supergroup back in 2009 with Conor Oberst, Jim James, and Mike Mogis. He is also the “Him” in “She and Him.” The she is Zooey Deschanel. They have put out five records. And of all of this culminates in Migration Stories in the here and now. Through all of these records and the many styles the one that sticks out the most and the one that I have had the pleasure of listening to is John Fahey. Matt lists him as being an important inspiration, and I could hear it. Having listened to them both they truly put together some magnificent records. This is not about John Fahey though; this is about Migration Stories another great record in a list of a few from M. Ward. So yeah, pick up the record and take a listen. Make a casserole, clean the house, or go for a drive and bring M. Ward along with you.