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“Several times, as I listened to M. Ward’s Supernatural Thing, I asked myself what year it was. Was it 1952, and was I listening to a track from the Harry Smith Anthology? Was it 1972, and was I eavesdropping on the recording session for After the Gold Rush? No, it’s 2023, and M. Ward is one of the special contemporary artists who invite such questions. Ward has clearly mastered the whole vocabulary of American popular music and made serious decisions about how to employ it for his own ends. What Ward shares with Harry Smith’s artists and Neil Young is a context of musical and human values: authenticity and intimacy. Supernatural Thing’s original songs sound freshly pulled from the ground, with a little earth sticking to them. Ward’s lyric delivery has that slight rawness the ear loves, and his voice has quiet dignity and great tenderness. Supernatural Thing is an open-hearted, inviting album.
The album’s guest stars — First Aid Kit, Shovels & Rope, Scott McMicken, Neko Case, Jim James, others — enliven the album with surprises. On “Too Young to Die,” the women’s voices in First Aid Kit spread a light frosting over the melody, and their Beach Boys-like chorus on “Engine 5” makes the song sound like an instant hit. Eight of the album’s ten songs are Ward originals. There’s an unusual Bowie choice, “I Can’t Give Everything Away” from Blackstar, and a live rendition of Daniel Johnston’s ‘Story of an Artist.’” -By James Cushing
Both as a solo artist and as one-half of She & Him, M. 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 which pulled from folk, country, blues, pop, and experimental indie rock elements. Ward established himself with warm, analog-minded releases like 2003’s Transfiguration of Vincent and 2006’s Post-War before joining forces with singer/actress Zooey Deschanel to form the highly successful indie pop duo She & Him in 2008. Over the following decade, Ward split his time between projects, releasing a 2009 album with indie supergroup Monsters of Folk, several high-profile albums with Deschanel including She & Him’s Columbia-issued 2014 set Classics, and critically acclaimed solo releases like 2009’s Hold Time, 2012’s A Wasteland Companion, and 2018’s What a Wonderful Industry. Ward kicked off the next decade with a deeply atmospheric set called Migration Stories and a Billie Holiday covers album Think of Spring most recently.