Album Review: Hell or Highwater // David Duchovny

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When actors decide to foray into the music world, a majority of the time they’re never really welcomed with open arms. They are usually met with disdain that they may be using their fame to get a head start, or just using the album as vanity project. This isn’t the case at all with David Duchovny, who even said when the first day of recording came around, he ended up lying on the floor of the studio wondering why he decided to actually do this, and thinking that it wasn’t a great idea.

Why Duchovny decided to do this was more of a personal project than anything else. He stated recently in an interview that, “As parents, we’re always telling our kids that worthwhile things are hard work, and you have to fail and fail and fail and eventually it gets fun. But, they only see us doing. They don’t see us learning, they see us doing our stuff already. So I wanted to find something that I really sucked at – which wasn’t hard at all – and I also wanted them to play instruments. So I thought if I take up guitar, maybe they’ll watch me struggle, they’ll watch me get frustrated, they’ll watch me persevere and maybe they’ll take it up too.”

That notion transcends Hell or Highwater throughout. Duchovny didn’t go full out with the album; he produced something that you can feel he’s comfortable with and that he’s worked hard on, to set an example to his kids that they can do anything they set out to do. It’s extremely low-key which I don’t think a lot of people were expecting. Duchovny doesn’t necessarily want to make a career out of this. It’s more like a time capsule than anything else – 12 songs of who he was as a person at the time of recording, seeing as he was going through a divorce, culminating in some spare time to learn to play guitar. After learning the basic chords on guitar, he figured out that a majority of his favourite music – Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, R.E.M. etc. – all used the same basic chord structure, and that was where Hell or Highwater came into fruition.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-W2izQyHiTc&w=740&h=422]

You can hear these influences throughout the record, on the whole it’s very Dylan-esque with a hint of Lou Reed at times – both musicians that Duchovny had compared himself to when trying to describe what sort of vibe the album had before it was released. At times there’s a hint of Wilco, R.E.M and even Oasis – especially on the track ‘3000’. The record is an amalgamation of different genres of rock blended together, whether it’s the folksy ‘Another Year’ or slow ballads in the form of ‘The Things’ and ‘Hell or Highwater’. It can even be pretty hard rock at times, especially with the track ‘Unsaid, Undone’ – which is probably my favourite off the record. Duchovny manages to splice together a nice collection of rock genres that flow seamlessly together as an album.

His poetry pays off throughout the album, another thing that spurred him on to do this in the first place. He had the basic chords and he knew how to write poetry, two things that allow you easy access to create a song. This is extremely prevalent in ‘Positively Madison Avenue’, where he showcases observations of commercialism with Bob Dylan and the famed Superbowl commercials, and even with his own career with The X-Files and how he’s more grateful for it now than he was back when he was filming it: “I really shouldn’t be throwing stones / ’cause chasing spooks on Fox is how I made my bones”. Duchovny is also very personal with the lyrics, especially regarding his love life, which seems to be the root of this record. But it’s not self-depreciating in the slightest. He writes in a way that is probably an emotional release for him, but the result is songs that everyone can relate to – which I think he was trying to achieve with this record.

I’m pleasantly surprised with how this album turned out. Not that I didn’t think he wouldn’t be good, this was just so out of the blue that it’s really nice to see how well Duchovny has done with this record. Bearing in mind he’s only been playing guitar for five years and how completely new to him this all is. He’s definitely achieved what he strived to do in the first place – showing his kids and the rest of the world that it’s never too late to learn something you’re passionate about, in this case, music.

David Duchovny and actress Gillian Anderson fist-bump during his performance at The Cutting Room, in support of the release of his debut album "Hell Or Highwater", on Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
David Duchovny and actress Gillian Anderson fist-bump during his performance at The Cutting Room, in support of the release of his debut album “Hell Or Highwater”, on Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Plus we got a concert involving a duet from Gillian Anderson out of this, so this record is a godsend.

Words by Sophie McEvoy

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