Matt Ward has a voice like a crackling fire: comforting, barely there and yet indispensable. The opening track on his fourth album, Post-War, is an up-tempo swinger called “Poison Cup.” It swells with strings and big drums, but it’s the vocals that carry the beautiful melody. Love is heavy, but here it’s twice as big and impossibly complex. Ward sings, “I hope you know what this means/ I’m gonna give you everything,” and a small mountain somewhere may have just been moved.
What follows is staggering and, at times, pretty confusing: charging, pacing, acoustic, electric, wild timbre shifts, each blowing away like separately torn pages out of separately gathered songbooks. The front-porch stomp of “Magic Trick” gives way to the organ-and-Theremin surf bliss of “Neptune’s Net,” which oddly enough starts with a Nick Drake nod. A slight hint about the locale change can be found in the former tune’s lyrics: “People come/ People go/ Sometimes without goodbye/ Sometimes without hello.” Next? “Rollercoaster,” a light, piano-roll thing that, given individual vs. larger context, makes both perfect and no sense.
Post-War ends this way, more breathy and hushed than rollicking and out front. Earlier moments, such as the great Daniel Johnston cover, “To Go Home,” and the scratchy, banging “Requiem,” feel miles away considering the subdued grandness of “Today’s Understanding” and the skyline closer, “Afterword/Rag,” which appropriately begins one thing (highway escapism) and becomes another (folk noodling as a half-song).
Post-War is supposedly an album about, well, post-war, but with the exception of “Right in the Head” (which has to be about Bush), there’s little else to back up that claim. We’re not left in one place long enough to dwell. That’s not to say you couldn’t (or won’t want to) go deeper, but Ward has the enviable gift of transcendence. Like Dylan. To put it un-poetically: You needn’t agree or even understand his root intentions to appreciate the wonder within. The emphasis, then, should be on the word “post”: Matt Ward can go anywhere from here. We’ll be right there with him, of course. Each of us for different reasons.