M. Ward creates music that makes sonic ‘antiquing’ an art form. For long, ‘distressed’ covers signified irony in pop music, but Ward is one of a very small number who can tackle another artist’s song in off-kilter fashion while still remaining respectful of the original rendition. On Hold Time, he sometimes reminds one of Howe Gelb (Giant Sand) both artistically – casting about amidst a varied pile of musical styles to create pleasant patchworks – and, increasingly, in the growling baritone inflections of his singing voice.
A case in point is his slowed down, bleary-eyed version of Sonny West’s “Rave On;” it brings a low-fi, alt-folk ambience to the tune, all the while maintaining the ebullience of its anthemic chorus. “Never Had Nobody like You” evinces a similar affection for old time rocking that underscores Ward’s quirky yet earnest selection of the West song.
Zooey Deschanel has become a frequent collaborator of Ward’s – their 2008 project She & Him was captivating. She appears here too, adding vocals to buoy the proceedings on both of the aforementioned songs. Lucinda Williams and Jason Lytle (Grandaddy) also guest.
On “One Hundred Million Years,” the approach is more influenced by acoustic folk roots music. “Shangra La,” featuring sepulchral sub-octave doublings, also adopts this soundworld – simultaneously venerable and utterly fresh.