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Albums Of The Week: M. Ward | Supernatural Thing

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “Renowned singer-songwriter M. Ward’s new studio album Supernatural Thing is his first release in three years. Its title track lives in a liminal space in which Elvis Presley comes to him with a message: ‘You can go anywhere you please.’

“Well, all my songs depend on dream-imagery to some extent,” Ward explained, “and this was an actual dream I had about Elvis, when he came to me and said that. I don’t know if it’s pandemic-related or not.” Summing up the emotional tone of the record, Ward sings on this track: “You feel the line is growing thin / between beautiful and strange.”

If that isn’t interesting enough for you, the album’s guest stars — First Aid Kit, Shovels & Rope, Scott McMicken, Neko Case, Jim James and others — enliven the album with more surprises. Eight of the album’s 10 songs are Ward originals, but there is also an unusual David Bowie cover — I Can’t Give Everything Away from Blackstar — and a live rendition of Daniel Johnston’s Story Of An Artist. “Bowie and Johnston are constant sources of inspiration for me, have been for I don’t know how many years,” Ward offered.

The album’s title “comes from an early thought as a kid that radio traveled the same airwaves as messages from supernatural things — and music, especially remembered music, is somehow tied up in this exchange. The sending and receiving of messages from memory and dreams seem to move along this same often broken-up wavelength. I see this new record as an extension, 18 years later, of my Transistor Radio record, but this new record is better because its more concise and has more voices and more moods — the way my favourite radio was and still is.”

Supernatural Thing is M. Ward’s first new music since 2020, but that year he released two albums. On April’s Migration Stories, he was inspired by the immigration journeys he’d heard from friends or read about in newspapers, as well as what his own grandfather had to go through when immigrating to the US from Mexico. For the December album Think of Spring, he covered classic Billie Holiday tunes, another source of inspiration.

Both as a solo artist and as one-half of She & Him, Ward became one of the defining voices of the American indie landscape in the 2000s, earning fans and critical acclaim for his distinctive brand of breezy West Coast Americana, pulling from folk, country, blues, pop, and indie rock. Ward established himself with warm, analog-minded releases like 2003’s Transfiguration of Vincent and 2006’s Post-War before joining forces with singer and actress Zooey Deschanel to form the highly successful indie-pop duo She & Him in 2008. Over the following decade, he split his time between projects, releasing a 2009 album with indie supergroup Monsters Of Folk, several albums with Deschanel, and acclaimed solo releases like 2009’s Hold Time, 2012’s A Wasteland Companion, and 2018’s What A Wonderful Industry.”