Ward opens A Wasteland Companion with the smooth “Clean Slate”, a calm piece employing a climbing resonator guitar line that reassures the alternative-country style associated with his previous repertoire. A slower track, “Clean Slate” is an easy standout track, and pays artistic homage to his strongly folk-influenced “Post-War” (2006).
Following “Slate”, Ward shifts into the aforementioned energy boost with “Primitive Girl”, putting his occasionally campy, keyboard-laden tendencies on full display. While the songwriting for “Girl” seems less inspired than the preceding “Clean Slate”, the short track is saved by Ward’s infectious lead key sequence.
Keeping in pace with “Primitive Girl”, the energetic “Me and My Shadow” and the following “Sweetheart” move the musical focus from keys to guitars, and make great use of Deschanel’s supporting vocals.
“I Get Ideas”, the fifth track on “Companion”, is easily the album’s strongest track, coming off as more a surf-rock track than the folk workings Ward fans are usually exposed to. It’s an out-of-nowhere, irresistible piece beckoning the listener, with an obvious suavity into an impromptu swing. In fact, let me continue this review in a few minutes, after I get my dancing kicks on.
There. That’s much more fitting.
Of course, now that Ward’s fans have slipped into appropriate footwear, the album takes an atmospheric, ambient intermission with “The First Time I Ran Away”. While I can understand Ward is, after all, an indie-folk artist (and thus, the previously-employed surge of energy is not a mandated part of his work), “First Time” comes to the ears as a shade too simple.
The album’s title track, “A Wasteland Companion”, follows the speed of “First Time”, but makes clear improvements over the simplicity of the previous track with bluesy acoustics and relatable songwriting.
“Watch the Show” then chugs along like a soundtrack to a midnight drive through the Arizona desert. It’s the kind of tune that would fit snugly into the background of any Quentin Tarantino film, preferably “From Dusk ‘til Dawn”.
Ward then slips back into the soothing pace of “Clean Slate” with “There’s a Key”, a gorgeously composed, all-acoustic track that his voice complements magically.
Following “There’s a Key”, Ward lets his nimble fingers teak a break from steel strings in favor of keys in “Crawl After You”, likely the most well-written, and vocally powerful piece on the album.
But of course, not even Ward can stray from strings for too long, as he picks up the guitar again in “Wild Goose” and the album’s finale, “Pure Joy”, much to the same beat of “There’s a Key”. While not standout tracks, it should be noted how subtly the tracks blended into one another, bringing A Wasteland Companion to its unfortunate close.
As for final thoughts, while M. Ward and his vocal style should be an acquired taste, he makes his work very accessible in A Wasteland Companion. In between the album’s serene acoustics and abrupt bursts of energy, there should be at least an enjoyable track, or five, for really any listener.
“I Get Ideas”
“Me and My Shadow”