Title: Vincent O'Brien
Artist: M. Ward
Album: The Transfiguration of Vincent
2003 was not a particularly good year for music. But it was a very good year for me. I was in love so just about everything sounded good to my ears. Luckily, the woman who captured my heart had very good taste in music or I might be featuring something by Evanescence this week. Still, reviewing this particular year in music is bittersweet despite the fond memories it rouses.
I'm so glad Chris introduced me to M. Ward when we met. Otherwise, my first experience with his music would likely have been the terrible terrible records he makes with actress Zooey Deschanel. Listening to The Transfiguration of Vincent is a little like listening to Billy Joel's The Stranger circa 1992 when it was clear that Christie Brinkley had destroyed him. To be completely fair, Ward has never consistently found his way in terms of making solid records but he absolutely knocked it out of the park with this one (and continues to whiff with She and Him).
"Vincent O'Brien" is not my favorite song from the album but it is probably the best representative track. There's an adventuresome spirit buried beneath the layers of guitar and piano that occupy the deliberately lo-fi space. I really appreciate the juxtaposition of styles present in what is essentially a straight-forward pop song: the piano eluding to barrelhouse blues, the electric solo left over from the 90s noise pop scene, the core of the song dressed up for shoegazing. And then there's the vocal, a velvety rasp that takes risks like no other M. Ward record since. It's the voice that really shines for me on this record, even more than the superb guitar work and strong songwriting. It's a very fine album, comparable even to some of Tom Waits's best work.