Through the haze of Americana that has billowed out of the indie music scene in the past two years or so, M. Ward has ridden high above the clouds. Following his phenomenal Transfiguration in 2003, he returns in ’05 to expand his collection of catchy and creative homegrown alternative folk.
Unlike the Devendra Banharts of the world, who excel by piercing the strange and subtle core of folk storytelling, Ward veers towards the melodic backbone of this truly American genre, concocting a sound that is entirely his own. His pounding beat on “Deep Dark Well”or the accentuated rhythm of “HiFi”are only two of the many examples of his hearkening for sweetened chord progression.
“Big Boat”is another song that will have you tapping your toes and singing along in no time. Beginning with an awesome piano it adds a heavy beat and a huge bass guitar while Ward spews simple lines about the hazards of materialism.
Ward expands on his base style on swinging numbers such as “Here Comes the Sun Again,”which takes his signature melancholic positivity to new heights. The obvious reference to George Harrison’s original is accentuated by the presence of a similar melody. But Ward finds the sad irony in the phrase “here comes the sun again,”and he is able to make you cry and smile within a few lines, all in that same sly tone of voice.
“Lullaby and Exile”is one of three fine tunes that come near the end of the record, where Ward slows it down to a simple acoustic jaunt. Once again he cleverly expresses the bipolar nature of life; “Well a sound of a bell/could sound like angel’s crying/or sunlight multiplying/through Virgin Mary in stained glass.”
Though this record lacks a song with the breathtaking beauty of Ward’s cover of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,”it does contain an amazing intro instrumental that has implanted itself in my consciousness for days. A rollicking and perfectly melodious riff on his acoustic guitar, that rises and falls quickly, before gliding into the next track. The first song alone is worth the price of admission, among the singer/songwriter’s best work, but if we’ve learned nothing else from Ward’s growing canon, it’s that he is never anything short of consistent.
Transistor Radio is a gorgeous little break from the monotony of not only popular music but life in general. It’s a little bit of heaven that M. Ward has let float down from his clouds.