Hipsters, lace up your Doc Martens, dust off your vinyl players and feast your eyes-with-the-oversized-glasses-that-you-don't-need here: M. Ward is back with even more acoustic solos.
The Y-chromosome of She and Him and Monsters of Folk has proved he's just as talented without Zooey Deschanel's adorkable cheery yesteryear vibe. Whether we miss Deschanel or not up is up for debate.
Ward's tracks on A Wasteland Companion, his seventh solo CD, have a distinctly mellow Portland vibe that at times borders on ominously vague songs you'd hear on a Starbucks run, and sounds, that is to say, weirdly hipster and commercialized.
However, Ward never completely shies away from the quirky fun he has with Deschanel: her back-up vocals on "Sweetheart" helps to create an American Bandstand vibe, complete with hand clapping and lyrics like, "You have a nice smile, baby/You drove me crazy down lover's lane."
"Primitive Girl" is an upbeat pop track along a similar vein, which would have been featured in (500) Days of Summer had the film been made three years later and, most likely, would have given Ward a certain kind of name recognition.
Ward's best tracks have witty, lovelorn lyrics and laid-back acoustics, such as when he confides to a love interest, "When we're dancing and you're dangerously close, I get ideas," on "I Get Ideas." Lyrics like these are almost enough get Ward a figurative date.
Also of note is "Watch the Show," the vignette that follows the life of a television show editor who longs to work behind the scenes, in which Ward critiques society's mutual obsession with the tube.
His imaginative songwriting is at its peak on "Crawl After You," when he croons, "I was raised by a tribe of Vegas cowboys," in an older hipster's version of "We Are Young" without the, well, fun.
At its worst, the tracks of A Wasteland Companion sound increasingly more hipster-emotional as they progress, and "A Wasteland Companion" and "Wild Goose" lack the inventive lyrics and low-key vibe of previous songs, instead delving into the pitfalls of twee and self-conscious irony.
The final songs sound scratchy and tired. Honestly, the latter tunes are a bit of a letdown after the fresh first few tracks, which were so promising.
Yet we're willing to forgive him. The songwriting is so eerily earnest that it's impossible not to like, such as in tracks like, "There's a Key", isn which he casually confesses, "So I'm losing my marbles one marble at a time, it's true . . ."
And after my week of intense philosophy paper writing, I can't help but agree. It's his earnest lyrics that make the album worth listening to, despite its tried and weary tone.