Weight Falls, the new album by Australian troubadour Kim Churchill, is by turns thrilling and frustrating.
This is not a stripped-down folk offering, or a retro Americana release — though it borrows elements from both those styles at surprising times. So what keeps him out of those camps? It's simple: Churchill rarely holds back when it comes to studio flourishes and mainstream striving.
Sometimes this is a good thing, like on "Heart of You," which mixes old-timey folk guitar with a slickly produced beat, all rendered in a slithering rhythm that's slyly alluring, and "The Border," which sounds haunted and enchanted, with steady strumming and "ooh-ing" background vocals. Those songs, and opening track "Whole Entire," successfully turn studio effects into instruments all their own.
However, such wonderfully engaging moments don't quite abound on Weight Falls. That's because Churchill is prone to grating pandering, especially on "Breakneck Speed," which sounds less like a folk song, or even a Kim Churchill tune for that matter, and more like the latest single from Maroon 5.
Churchill's high voice isn't exactly distinctive, sounding akin to Top 40 pop stars Adam Levine and Jason Mraz or, at better moments, like James Mercer of the Shins. That's not always a bad thing, like on "Secondhand Car," which is oh so safe and oh so Mraz-y, except for its mysterious and downcast breakdowns. That surprising element gives the song enough nuance to bring casual listeners and more choosy music buffs together, though the latter might deem it a guilty pleasure. What's more: its climatic harmonica solo isn't even cheesy! Instead, it's pleasantly, undeniably fun. "Go On," is an even better song, containing all of Churchill's trademark earnestness but boasting a muscular chorus and aged folky bridges, making for a compelling contrast.
Though he's clearly talented, Churchill will have to stretch further next time if he wants to more successfully straddle the mainstream and alt-folk worlds. He's not having it both ways yet, hard as he tries on Weight Falls. (Cadence)