Album Review: M. Ward – Migration Stories

The ever-prodigious M. Ward is about to release his 10th solo studio album. Although nowadays he may be more well-known as a collaborator (with Conor Oberst, Zooey Deschanel and Neko Case featuring as some his most notable accomplices) M. Ward is, first and foremost, an exceptional solo singer-songwriter. On Migration Stories, Ward returns to what he has always been best at – combining beautifully crafted melodies with a softly sombre, hauntingly beautiful voice.

At first, the now bitter-sweetly named Migration Stories feels like easy-going, Sunday morning coffee music. The sun shining through the window as you settle down with the paper, the opening stirrings of ‘Migration Of Souls’ working themselves up in the background – a nice easy-going album for a nice easy-going time. But this is not a nice easy-going time and the same assumption about this record fails to recognise its complexity. Weaving through Migration Stories, Ward actually guides us along eleven tracks which inhabit a world we know but may no longer recognise – a world divided by conflicts of ideology but brought together by technology and a yearning for progress.

Existential crises aside, the record is elevated by its lyrics which, as you can expect from Ward, are exceptional. Whether it is the ponderous realism of ‘Coyote Mary’s Travelling Show’ (“Tomorrows outta my range / Here now’s all there’s to know”) or the trusting beauty of ‘Torch’ (“She took me by the arm and said / “Even you can take the soul where you want it to” / And I’m living proof”), each of Ward’s mediations is poetic but immediately relatable.

Whilst one or two of the songs are perhaps a little more ethereal than intended, in that they are enjoyable whilst they last but then largely forgettable, the majority leave a lasting impression. None more so than stand-out track (and most recent single) ‘Heaven’s Nail & Hammer’, a slow-shuffling, extended metaphor which transcends its recording and transports the listener to a front porch on a cool summer’s evening. The sun goes down, the stars come out and with them a beauty reveals itself. Like those stars, Migration Stories seems so simple and yet is so delightfully complex.

James Beck

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