Matt Ward is among the more sanguine members of the indie-folk songwriters guild. He doesn’t warble or yelp, he just applies some reverb to his smoky voice and sings. He’s obsessed with terminations—of life, love, innocence, and humanity—but he doesn’t get broken up about them: He takes in all the beauty he can, remembers his faith, then pens gorgeous music.
Hold Time, his seventh album, directly considers the possibility of slowing the clocks and living in eternity. Perhaps that’s why the arrangements are so finely detailed, with countless layers of instruments stewed and caramelized until they’re uniformly lovely and golden. Still, there’s nothing as momentous or hummable as “Chinese Translation” or “Poison Cup,” from 2006’s breakthrough Post-War. Instead, the details sometimes outshine the songs: Lyrics about love come off as worn, and lyrics about God seem lifted from Sunday school. The solitary metronomic pinging that introduces “Oh Lonesome Me” communicates the song’s desolation just as well as the six-minute Lucinda Williams duet that follows it. The flamenco flourishes and kitchen-sink chugging of “To Save Me” valiantly props up lines like “He turns a big blue globe and turns the day into night,” but a certain vocal panache is required to sell such camp, and panache just isn’t what Ward does best.