On Hold Time, Matt Ward ushers the listener through a gallery of remarkably friendly, entertaining songs that radiate warmth. This album not only sounds organic, it feels organic. Ward’s voice emanates a comfortable climate-controlled aura, guitars are wrapped in fuzzy distortion and cool acoustic breezes, and the drums are set at just the right temperature.
Ward’s concise songwriting allows him to jump between moods many times over through the album’s 14 tracks as he presents his own subdued, thoughtful takes on blues, folk, pop, and rock. His pals help out too: Longtime cohort Zooey Deschanel contributes vocals to the lively blues of “Never Had Nobody Like You” and the spirited “Rave On”; DeVotchKa’s Tom Hagerman contributes strings throughout; Lucinda Williams adds an apocalyptic touch to the already forlorn “Oh Lonesome Me”; and Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle juices up the rock quotient of “To Save Me.”
Songs like “Jailbird” and “Hold Time” are simple in nature, yet incredibly lush and emotional, swaddled in a warm bath of bubbling synthesizer sounds and sweeping orchestration. Others, like the lighthearted “Rave On,” plug along at a pleasing pace, evoking the refried blues adoration of John Lennon – down-to-earth songs plugged in to a slightly psychedelic electrical outlet.
Masterful touches like timpani and ghostly slide guitar are what turn these songs into memorable moments. “To Save Me” benefits greatly from the piano that nudges it into classic pop territory, and “Stars of Leo” lulls the listener into a solemn state before it bursts into bell-laden bliss. “Fisher Of Men” features a rollicking style reminiscent of old train-hopping folk songs and plainspoken lyrics in the vein of Johnny Cash, but the song sizzles because of the swelling strings in the background.
Conversely, the songs that are left alone work equally well, such as the stripped-down blues of “One Hundred Million Years” and the relentlessly shiny “Shangri-La.” Ward’s voice is enough to carry any tune, and he’s particularly successful on tracks where his sublime singing stands in subtle contrast to the music, like on the joyous “Epistemology.”
These mellow yet constant shifts in depth are what make Hold Time so pleasing. The subtle differences in the production of each song make the experience a breezy, thought provoking ride.