By Madison Vain
March 04, 2016 at 12:39 PM EST

After seven acclaimed solo albums, five more with Zooey Deschanel with the ongoing indie-pop project She & Him, and one glorious turn with Conor Oberst and Jim James in the supergroup Monsters of Folk, Matthew Ward — who writes and records music as M. Ward — has little left to prove. And fortunately for listeners, he doesn’t know that. On More Rain, the eighth LP under his own name, the singer-songwriter returns with 12 enthralling, world-weary meditations—some of his best yet.

The inspiration, however, comes from a dark place. Ward has said in an interview that this album was inspired by his morning ritual of reading The New York Times and the seemingly constant onslaught of bad news. So it’s not a surprise that this sonic mood-board has a gloomy vibe. The album starts with a minute-long “song” comprised of nothing but the sounds of the rainstorm, which Ward taped in his hometown. The deceptively upbeat “Time Won’t Wait” has him pining: “All I want is one soul to love me / One soul to love me / To hold me tight.” On “Slow Driving Man,” he sings about a lonesome figure behind the wheel with “no one to pick up / no one to let down.”

The sun peaks through occasionally, and generally at the hands of his guests: Neko Case’s backing vocals on “Time Won’t Wait,” k.d. lang’s harmonies on “Little Baby,” and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck’s six-string testimony on “Temptation” are all highlights. There’s also a cover of The Beach Boys’ 1964 hit “You’re So Good To Me,” which even Ward can’t nudge towards the dark side. But Rain is, undoubtedly, about feeling like everything’s gone to hell – and Ward handles such a bleak worldview beautifully, with earnest lyrics and bare-bones arrangements.

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