Album Review: TITUS BANK – Hopeless & Romantic

[Everything Forever; 2022]

TITUS BANK has written more songs than your average musician probably ever will. In 2017, the Canadian musician set himself a not-entirely-original but still staggering task: write, record, and release 365 songs throughout the year. Bank was still something of an unknown in the music world at that point, but even for a seasoned and songwriting veteran it’s an admirable goal to set oneself. He didn’t quite succeed (though he still managed a very notable 185 songs across the year, which was all the more impressive considering he was working full time during the project), but he proved to himself and the world he had admirable songwriting chops.

Years later his focus has narrowed: “After the 365 challenge, I started focusing more on quality rather than quantity, like, ‘OK, I know I can write a ton of decent songs, but how can I turn those into great songs?,’” he says. The result is Hopeless & Romantic, a full debut EP of pleasing and mostly innocuous alternative pop songs and ballads that feels more like a mini-album. It’s Bank stretching his legs and enjoying the space, trying to hone in on making those special songs that would resonate quickly with listeners were they to come up on Spotify daily playlist.

For those who have been following TITUS BANK intently, pretty much all the material will not be new; nearly all of the eight tracks here have been released in one form or another in the past year or so, making Hopeless & Romantic more of a neat compilation of successful efforts to date. Opening track “I Do Yeah” was first to appear in the world, neat and well pruned with a hint of a swagger in its acoustic guitar plucks and arena-sized bursts of noise during its chorus. “I’m just trying to open my mind,” he offers over a stomping beat, speaking of the difficulty of trusting his instincts – instincts that lead him down a path that doesn’t go out of its way to push any boundaries.

When his pop formula works though, this doesn’t matter. Recent single “Radio” namedrops Prince, Elvis, and Springsteen as Bank recalls the awkwardness of new love with references to tripping over laces and feeling like a kid with braces. While not life-changing, it’s lightly infectious and charming, a smear of 80s drive in it as Bank determines “love is only better on the radio.” “Bad Loving” boasts a better kind of swagger than that on the opening track, surrounded in a darker hue and emboldened with a syrupy bass and stylish piano flourishes. While they aren’t quite “As It Was”-level catchy or appealing, you wouldn’t likely turn them off if they came across your ears by surprise.

It’s Bank’s penchant for balladry that is his undoing here, and the EP’s opening momentum is zapped by slower tempos. The worst culprit is “I Give My All”, a saccharine ode to his wife and the pains of a long-distance marriage. “You paint the house but I just write songs / Living with the distance is tough / But I’ll never take my wedding ring off,” he croons, but it’s hard to care when he himself admits there’s nothing wrong (“Don’t be so dramatic, we both know that we’rе fine”). “Hide Me Like You Do” appears twice and it’s on the latter Dizzy remix version where something actually feels at stake. Turning the track into a duet with Dizzy vocalist Katie Munshaw, the chemistry might not be there, but the harmonizing voices and slight shimmer the band bring to the arrangement make the song feel less like a wet blanket.

Ballads are all part of the package appeal though, and they help show that Bank has multiple sides to him – something which Hopeless & Romantic seems intent to do above all else. He’s sensitive and loving, but equally can write songs that nestle themselves in your head for a day or two after a couple of listens. His arrangements are handsome and likeable (see the rubbery sheen of “The Way You Love” or the summery glow of “Radio”), but when he curtails into maudlin songwriting that is either too on the nose or too inconsequential (“Waves Break,” “I Give My All”), the appeal is lacking. It’d be nice to get behind Bank as he starts to pave some paths in the music world, but if these are the best examples of his songwriting to date, then (despite his already full songbook) he may have a few more tracks to write so as to sharpen his songwriting skills – and make sure the “quality not quantity” rule is actually being followed.