July 02, 2005

M. Ward: Transistor Radio: Review

photo by Autumn DeWilde


M. Ward's new disc, Transistor Radio , is a throwback, a glass bottle of Coke amongst the oily mass of plastic pretenders. Each precious piece coming up from the quiet grey between songs, like a radio station slides in from the wet static on AM car radio.

This isn't a time warp we have here; M. Ward, or we for that matter, are not trapped in a whorl or warp in the fabric of the past. The dog is not wagging Ward, he is wagging the dog--let's call the mutt 'time'--and he is wagging or warping it to fit his own vision. And this vision is soaked with memories and inspiration; all of it embellished by a voice that sounds like old wood feels or like worn leathers smell.

I can imagine Ward adhering to the same principles that The Band's Robbie Robertson practiced when songwriting; that is to not date or fix the song in time by penning lyrics containing cultural references. Not to go on about cell phones, or just plain phones, or cars, or ovens, or computers--to stick to stories about people, not the tools and gadgets they use. This is the first step in crafting 'timeless music' in these quickly shifting times. Of course there is the small matter of the music as well, although that is more a matter of what feels right to the writer, what feels true.

Released by the indie giant, Merge Records, Transistor Radio offers up 16 tracks, three of which are instrumentals, including the lovely and melodic opener, "You Still Believe In Me", and it's sheaf of acoustic guitars. The generous number of songs bookended by instrumentals are for the most part intimate, closely held paeans of love. In large part a tribute to radio power, as Ward himself puts it, "Transistor Radio is a collection of songs about radio power--specifically, childhood memories of a utopian radio power...". Radio power... I think he's not just refering to the music, but to the giving people who work in independent radio and their love of the music they share.

This album creaks and then sways, sings and then buzzes, at times it even stomps; which may help this lovingly crafted collection of songs get the attention it deserves. That's all it needs, one open ear, the music will do the rest.

+ Big Boat

Alan Williamson
*this review originally appeared on www.betterpropaganda.com
*M WARD albums can be downloaded from emusic*

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