David Duchovny is having quite the year. News that “The X-Files” would follow in the footsteps of “Twin Peaks” and return with a limited television revival should’ve given the actor ample reason to rest on his creative laurels—especially since “Californication” wrapped last year and he’s already busy starring in the new show “Aquarius.” Instead, Duchovny has been taking a stab at other forms of creative expression, releasing a folk-rock album and even publishing a debut novel written from the perspective of a cow.

There’s something refreshing about a famous actor dabbling in music without the usual “music was my first love, I just fell into acting” humblebrag. Sure, Duchovny may have been able to chat about his foray into music on late night talk shows but otherwise, Hell or Highwater appeared with barely a whisper. (Hell, my review copy arrived as a CD-R labeled by nothing but black Sharpie ink.) Duchovny only learned to play the guitar within the past few years, a fact that—to his credit— isn’t all the obvious on his debut LP.

Citing Wilco as an influence, Duchovny’s folk-rock sensibilities are of the sleepy dad-rock variety. There are pleasant guitar chord progressions, steady drums and some pedal steel thrown in for extra sentimentality. His voice may not be all that dynamic, but at least he’s not as flatly-affected as some of his most memorable TV characters. There’s nothing overtly dislikeable about any of this, even if it’s pure vanilla. But the songwriting is what ultimately sinks Hell or Highwater, as one could likely deduce from the use of such a well-worn album title.

In fact, Duchovny piles on the clichés and aphorisms to a degree that seems likes he’s trying to be ironic. But these songs are wrapped in the sentimental and earnest regret of a man who saw his 15-plus year marriage officially end a year ago. The album’s often forlorn lyrics are directed towards a woman, fictional or not. There’s talk of seeing her “all in white again,” of sins and redemption, of the moon and cleansing rain. That’s standard fare to begin with, and the album devolves into near-silliness with lines like “I won’t wipe away the tears you cry with any tissue of lies” or “Like soldiers frozen in the coldest war/ They’ve forgotten what they’re fightning for.”

And there’s more than a few musical sequences that sound familiar. One of the album’s better offerings, “The Things” shares similarities with the beat and crunchy guitar of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” even if Duchovny’s vocals are mellower. And the first few moments of Hell or Highwater are a dead ringer for the jangly opening to R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon.” Duchovny serves himself best when he sticks with the acoustic guitar. Appearing mid-record, the gentle “The Rain Song” sees Duchovny begin to hit his modest musical stride (even if he does his best to sink it by referencing both the Beatles and the Bible in the same line). “Lately It’s Always December” has tender musical moments, though the “Cowgirl’s gaze and a sailor’s mouth” imagery feels trite. The faster tempo electric guitar tracks are what land with a thud. “Unsaid Undone” explodes off the line but pulls up lame as Duchovny sings about powerlessness being his only power (and hopelessness his only hope). And “3000” sounds like bad karaoke by Fox Mulder. The churning and wistful “Another Year” may be the only harder-edged track that manages to work.

Despite Duchovny’s poetic failings, there’s still a “you know what, good for him” quality to Hell or Highwater. Though it may be difficult to pinpoint the target market for the record, one gets the sense that there’s a personal catharsis in there. That doesn’t make this good music—for the rest of us, there’s little more than novelty appeal. But Duchovny could be sitting back collecting those big fat TV royalty checks. Instead he’s putting himself out there in new ways. Hard to fault a guy for that.

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