Despite its title, ‘More Rain’ is in fact an ode to the summertime, a blue sky antidote for grey clouds and a cure for seasonal affective disorder. Beginning as an independent lo-fi doo-wop project, M. Ward soon enlisted the help of his friends to beef up the recordings, bringing out the summer spirit of the 60s that sounds perfectly at home in 2016.
Most recently, M. Ward is probably better known for his work with ‘New Girl’s’ Zooey Deschanel in She & Him – their sultry duets proving popular with a modern audience, despite harking back to the decade of tie-dye, hippy-culture and Woodstock. He was also one quarter of the thrilling Monsters of Folk alongside Conor Oberst and Jim James. There’s no doubt then he’s a talented gentleman, and on his eighth studio album, he once again shows that you can go a long way with a drop of sunshine and sing-a-long melody.
‘Pirate Dial’ fades in after the opening instrumental of rainfall, its softly strummed chorus appearing as a break in the clouds. It’s an unassuming start and sets the tone for an album that will creep inside your head without you knowing it. ‘Time Won’t Wait Up’ breaks the calm with a chugging bass line that ricochets its way through the track. Singing about how being lonely tonight just wouldn’t be right, never has a plea for “one soul to love” sounded so joyful.
‘Confession’ begins with a surf rock-riff reminiscent of The Beach Boys or more recently indie purveyors The Drums, while ends with triumphant mariachi trumpeting. The subjects of the songs might not always be summer holiday friendly, but musically you’re always drinking from a coconut on a deserted beach.
Every time M. Ward begins the recording process, he sifts through his archive of old four track recordings he’s been making since his early 20s. One of the songs to be revamped from the past in ‘Girl from Conejo Valley’, a track of shuffling beats and gentle ‘oohs’ that bursts into life with a sunny synthesizer fit for Malibu Beach parties.
You can hear that the album began with vocals at the forefront and the doo-wop style is most prevalent on ‘Little Baby’, while the multi-tracked vocals on ‘I’m listening’ creates a hazy dream feel to the song. In other hands, the retro themes could have ended up sounding pastiche, but his songwriting abilities allow him to effortlessly blend the doo-wop vocals in where appropriate, as he does fantastically on the up-tempo strumming of ‘You’re So Good To Me’.
He adopts his finest croon for ‘Slow Driving Man’, which makes no bones with its intentions as Ward sings “This is a song about a slow driving man and I’m about to sing it as slow as I can,” on this pace-dropping, orchestral-infused number.
Introducing the pedal steel guitar, ‘Phenomenon’ is a late night country strummer about oversharing – beginning and ending with the line “If you can’t talk to your friends about it, to a strange it’s strictly taboo.” Ward still mainly records with analog equipment, and the warmth it lends the sound sets the mood perfectly, especially on the album’s concluding track, ‘I’m Going Higher’, which is an optimistic slice of Californian vitamin D that you can easily imagine soundtracking a carefree drive into the sunset as the credits roll.
In just under 40 minutes, ‘More Rain’ creates a dreamy, laid-back hiding place for you to escape from any dreariness of the day-to-day. It’s not an album of any surprises and is certainly not reinventing the wheel, but you’ll be hard pressed to find any other record this year that puts such a spring in your step.
‘More Rain’ is out now via Merge Records.
This M. Ward article was written by Tim Thackray, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Ben Kendall.