Unfolding like a dream complete with a gentle lift off, guidance from the spiritual realm, surreal situations, and revisiting the line of the lucid before falling back deeper into time and space, Supernatural Thing emerges as a fascinating, otherworldly chapter in M. Ward’s musical trajectory. Ward’s signature style is present, here the nostalgic is infused with the innovative, rendering into the present faraway voices from a distant time with help from a variety of friends.
The record opens with the solo, acoustic introduction “lifeline” followed by the first appearance by the haunting First Aid Kit, his lines arriving a response to their call. "First Aid Kit are sisters from Stockholm, and when they open their mouths, something amazing happens,” Ward said. “It was a great thrill to go to Stockholm and record a few songs there. The sound from blood-related harmony singers is impossible to get any other way – The Everly Brothers, The Delmores, The Louvins, The Carters, The Söderbergs - all have the same kind of feeling in their vocals.” This lending a message from the song, “teach a kid guitar and he’ll be broke for the rest of his life,” an ominous tone.
The album’s eponymous track is next, the inspiration for the album’s supernatural theme. Elvis Presley appears in his dream with a message: You can go anywhere you please. “Well, all my songs depend on dream-imagery to some extent,” he replied, “and this was an actual dream I had about Elvis, when he came to me and said that. I don’t know if it’s pandemic-related or not.” Ward continues, “The title supernatural thing comes from an early thought as a kid that radio traveled the same airwaves as messages from supernatural things — and music, especially remembered music, is somehow tied up in this exchange.”
Midway through we meet the first of the two covers, David Bowie’s “I Can’t Give Everything Away” from his Blackstar requiem, a lush, layered, mostly-instrumental soundscape guided entrancingly with help from Jim James. Psychedelic surrealist dreams come to life in the second First Aid Kit appearance, “Engine 5,” then Shovels & Rope appear in “Mr. Dixon” together conjuring up something that could be at home on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but the past is new again. “The sending and receiving of messages from memory and dreams seem to move along this same often broken-up wavelength. In this way and many others, I see this new record as an extension, 18 years later, of my Transistor Radio record, but this new record is better because its more concise and has more voices and more moods — the way my favorite radio was and still is,” Ward says.
The record concludes in applause, a live rendition of Daniel Johnston’s “Story of an Artist,” and we’re left standing outside the dream though changed by our connection to it. Ward adds, "When you can’t go out and see it for yourself, radio is still the best way for me to connect with the outside world. Whether it be music or talk or news or politics - FM or AM or satellite – I re-learned this while stranded indoors during the pandemic - It's constantly changing at the hands of someone far away who you don't know and there's a lot in that exchange to be inspired by when it comes to making records."
Ward’s Supernatural Thing is spinning very real from listeners of KMTN, KRSH, Radio Milwaukee and more as well as in person on tour dates going on now.
Photo by Jacob Boll