Understatement has always been Matt Ward’s stock in trade, which is possibly why he remains best known in the popular consciousness for his collaboration with Zooey Deschanel in She & Him than for his deceptively diverse solo catalogue, one which now spans more than two decades and eleven records. This latest, ‘Migration Stories’, might be his most impressionistic yet, a collection that began life as eleven woozy instrumentals that came together during sessions in Québec with two members of Arcade Fire, Tim Kingsbury and Richard Reed Parry. Over the top, Ward spins softly optimistic tales of a borderless near-future in a style that leans toward stream-of-consciousness - he might be on languid form here, but this is unquestionably a concept album.
The presence of Richard in the studio feels instructive, given that the warm, hazy melodies and tasteful use of synthesisers (especially on the gorgeous ‘Unreal City’) recall his own two-part solo release, ‘Quiet River of Dust’. Elsewhere, Matt renews his flirtation with country, particularly on an atmospheric version of the age-old cowboy ballad ‘Along the Santa Fe Trail’, which recalls some of the sterling, psych-inflected work that Damien Jurado did with then late, great Richard Swift. Given that his most recent visit to this kind of territory was on the lumpen ‘A Wasteland Companion’ back in 2012, that’s high praise indeed. Matt quietly signposted his intention to tackle the political in his music with 2016’s ‘More Rain’; on ‘Migration Stories’, he’s done so, with trademark elegance.