Littleworlds, the second album by Michael Falk’s solo project Touching, has grand aspirations. Falk points to dramatic, anthemic rock bands like Frightened Rabbit and Manchester Orchestra, freak folk auteur Richard Dawson and trip-hop legends Massive Attack as primary influences. A wide range of touchpoints, but oddly apt, in a sense.

Take the first track, “Still Slow,” a brooding introduction to the record, full of gloom but maintaining a certain slinky momentum which eventually builds to a glacial climax of synth and U2-esque guitar. It’s a release of the previously built tension, merging these atmospheric and rousing influences.

The fourth track, “Nothing Can Change Your Mind,” makes good on the promise of anthemic indie rock with a hooky melody built on a propulsive groove, massive, distorted ‘80s drums and a driving bass line.

But Falk’s righteous, arena-rock ambition sometimes leads to muddy production, with too many elements and too much reverb. On “Spark,” a perfectly catchy pop song which unfortunately could do with a remix, a barrage of vocal tracks and synth lines weighs down the potentially soaring hook.

The lyrics are also a sticking point. Falk says he made an effort to “turn inwards” as he became a father and regained some mental stability after a difficult 2020, refocusing and grounding his work. Though the music certainly conveys some large emotion — and Falk’s soulful baritone has some heft — the lyrics often lean too heavily on platitudes and obvious rhymes, like on the Springsteen-aping “All I Need,” which starts with clunky exposition and moves into vagaries about connection to your work that fall flat.

The second half of the record is underwhelming as well, as the gloomy “Diamond in the Light” fails to take off, “Two Solitudes” has a truly uninspired, tuneless chorus and “Caught in the Middle” wallows in yet more inspirational platitudes, reaching for a universal transcendence it never grasps. The closer, “Unbelievable,” is a convincing enough rip-off of a late Radiohead piano ballad, but fails to bring closure to the record or carve out its own spot in that style.

Despite a promising start, littleworlds ultimately fails in reaching the lofty heights it aspires to, marred by overwrought songwriting, muddy, throwback production and a general lack of energy and excitement.

Nov 3, 2021
Arts & Culture

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Alex Braun

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