REVIEW: M. Ward: Transfigurations of Vincent
M. Ward: Transfigurations of Vincent [Merge, 2003] (mp3s [at the top])
Three words? creaking tapping strum
M. Ward's wonderful third album is of a rare quality. It's a record whose influences are at once recognizable, and yet it sounds wholly refreshing and original. Though Transfigurations Of Vincent appears simple, subsequent listens reveal layers of detail that were missed the first time. Plainly put, this is a beautiful album and easily one of the best this year.
M. Ward's self-harmonising, acoustic songs drift from one style to another. "Sad, Sad Song" is a surprisingly catchy, Tom Waits-style dirge: a ghostly (keyboard?) howl starts things off and Ward's slightly raspy voice pleads, "Oh I went to the doctor / I said doctor please / What do you do when your true love leaves / He said the hardest thing in the world to do / Is to find somebody who believes in you." At other moments, the songs are quiet porch song ditties like "Undertaker," which builds slowly with quiet organ swells - resulting in a resonating otherworldly power. On tracks like "Outta My Head" - doubtless to soon appear on countless mixtapes - M. Ward reveals the pop sensibility that Evan Dando wishes he still posessed. On a few ocassions, Ward disposes of lyrics altogether and gives a gentle nod to his guitar pickin' forbears; the results, such as on the driving "Duet for Guitars #3," are fantastic.
M. Ward evokes so many images – ghosts, junk stores, worn book covers, empty cups of tea, rocking chairs, toy pianos – that he is almost in danger of becoming of cliche. Nevertheless, he so effortlessly juggles these qualities that one is simply held in awe, and in the arms, of these songs. A careful listen reveals the tape machine picking up sounds – someone dropping something on a hardwood floor, the creak of a chair – which further adds a sense of intimacy. This an album to be listened to alone or with someone close; songs to fill a small room or an empty night.
At fifteen tracks, Transfigurations Of Vincent runs a bit too long, but by the time you notice, you have been so rewarded for your patience that all can be forgiven. After two records on obscure labels, I sincerely hope that M. Ward's move to Merge will bring him the attention he so deserves.