Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Album Retrospective: M. Ward - Transistor Radio

Album Rating: A-
"The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be,
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page."- 
Wallace Stevens, "The House Was Quiet and The World Was Calm"

The art of deep reading has been lost on this generation; the ability to immerse oneself in the authors world has been replaced with an ability to only concentrate on our "Newsfeed" for a few seconds, the ability to lose ourselves in vivid details, imagery, and the crisp and productive sound of page flipping has been replaced with the unproductive activity of sending insane amounts of grammatically incorrect texts, and the ability to become the authors characters, places, descriptions, and literature has been replaced with a endless, futile, and frugal search to find oneself through electronic means.  We now live in a world where people only experience rapid self indulgence instead of thoughtful and majestic deep reading and reflection that actually allows us to become what we are reading.  So is all hope for full and patient immersion into another person's creative work of genius totally lost?  Let me ask my Facebook friends!

One individual who has not lost his ability to become a literary work is folk musician M. Ward.  Matt Ward is not only able to temporally "lose himself" in whatever creative masterpiece he is quietly absorbing, listening to, or reading, he is someone who can actually become that creative masterpiece for an extended period of time.  Instead of just being someone who is able to imagine the themes and concepts a writer is speaking of, Ward is a scholarly musician who is able to become the brilliant works he is absorbing and put those works to music.  This allows Ward to make just about any kind of music he wants to from just about any time period: he has covered artists from just about every 20th century decade, he has made transcendental and relaxing folk music, he has made some very rocking music, and he has even made some more "poppy" music.  Ward has always been a special artist because not only has he had many original influences, but he has been able to become those original influences just by studying, listening, and reading them.

With all of this being said, I will always find Ward's most impressive work to be 2005's Transistor Radio.  Transistor Radio is one of Ward's most original works not only because he is making an album based on 1940's and 1950's radio rock and jazz influences, but he does this sound so well that he makes  us believe that we are actually living in the 1940's and the 1950's and are becoming his work: we are becoming the man who is contemplating visiting the afterlife in "One Life Away," we are the man who is discovering the delightful little advances in technology in "Hi-Fi," we are the people who are making fun of the arrogance of the owner of the "Big Boat," we are watching those "Sweethearts on Parade," and we are falling in love with someone to the beautiful "I'll Be Yr Bird." Ward is able to help us travel to the 1940's and the 1950's because he already traveled there before us: this album features the masterization of every 40's and 50's rock and folk sound, vocal styling, and songwriting pattern.  Ward is able to allow us to become the lonely folk singer, the old dying man, the engineer, the hopeless romantic, and the boat owner, because he thought deeply enough to become these people and was talented enough to bring their stories to us through his music.  On Transistor Radio, Ward creates an album where he not only becomes his influences, but he allows us to become any his characters from the 1940's and the 1950's.

It is also important to mention that the music on Transistor Radio is some of the most consistent of Ward's career: "Big Boat" is one of his best rock songs, "Hi-Fi" is one of his most soulful and self-aware pieces, "Fuel For Fire" is one of his better ballads, "Here Comes The Sun Again" is the most beautiful song outside of "Pure Joy" in his catalog, and "I'll Be Yr Bird" is one of Ward's most well written songs.  Transistor Radio is a record that is beyond simple excellence; it is a record that is so profound, deep, and well composed that it allows us to become all of its lyrical themes, characters, riffs, and catchy choruses.  Ward has always been a scholarly musical time traveler, but Transistor Radio was the first time he invited us on his deep, dark, and interesting ride to past influences and past cultures.  So even if you don't do any deep reading, listen to Transistor Radio. It is a record that would make Wallace Stevens very proud.


1. You Still Believe In Me
2. One Life Away
3. Sweethearts on Parade
4. Hi-Fi
5. Sweethearts on Parade
6. Four Hours in Washington
7. Regeneration #1
8. Big Boat
9. Paul's Song
10. Radio Campaign
11. Here Comes The Sun Again
12. Deep Dark Well
13. Oh Take Me Back
14. I'll Be Yr Bird
15. Lullaby +Exile
16. Well Tempered Clavier 

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