Given M. Ward's stint with supergroup Monsters of Folk, I was worried this album would be all sorts of whispery, the way he likes to sing. Fortunately, he proved me wrong, breaking through those trademark vocals on the second track, "Primitive Girl," and maintaining some strength in his lungs through the next 10. Occasionally meandering into fields of pop with psychedelic flourishes, he finds his way out like a farmer to his folksy tool shed. He slows down the jangly pop-folk halfway through until it's nearly ambient; the title track is as vast as the space between the eight studios where he recorded.
The non-Zooey half of She & Him worked with 18 different musicians around the country for Wasteland. Collaboration is good, but this tends to sound like an M. Ward sampler mix at times. It lacks cohesion, each track trying to do something different, without a common element tying them into a neat package normally called an album.
The beat picks up again but never blisters like the first half. Like a roller-coaster building excitement on the way up, there is no way back after you descend. Still, it's a pretty great ride.
M. Ward plays the Wilma Theater Sat., May 26, at 9 PM. $23/$21 advance.