Just as he did on Reminisce Bar & Grill, on The World at Night Walter Martin blurs the borders between his "juvenile" albums and the ones aimed at adults in winning ways. In Martin's world, clever wordplay and irrepressible melodies shouldn't be relegated to children's music or the pop of the past, although the striking opening track of his fifth solo album borrows from both. "October" draws back the curtain on The World at Night by tapping into the eternal thrill of the spooky season. Over elegant strings, woodwinds, and brass that call to mind mid-20th century vocal pop (and a twinkling piano that harks back to the Walkmen), Martin delivers offhandedly brilliant lyrics like "The trees have gone bald/Guess the world is getting older" that uphold his reputation as a master of whimsy. Like his other solo work, "October" is a delight, but it and the rest of The World at Night are a little darker and deeper than his earlier releases, and understandably so: The album is dedicated to Stewart Lupton, his close friend and Jonathan Fire*Eater bandmate who died in 2018. Martin honors him with songs that are brimming with the joie de vivre of youth and shadowed by the reality of mortality that comes with age. On "To the Moon," Martin floats through the stars accompanied by an organ last heard on a silent movie soundtrack; on "Little Summer Fly," he celebrates small joys like the spots on a woodpecker's wings. As sweet as The World at Night can be, it's never sugarcoated. A lighter-than-air flute solo punctuates "Hey Joe"'s friendly conversation with a blackbird about existential angst, underscoring the feeling that Martin's music is so easygoing precisely because life can be so hard. He also takes the opportunity to branch out on The World at Night, drawing on his prior band's barreling, brazen rock for "First Thing I Remember" and adding a filmic scope to two of its standout tracks. On "The World at Night (for Stew)," he drapes its vision of nighttime as a sweet, secret realm in drifting orchestral beauty that's intimate and all-encompassing. That feeling then extends to "The Soldier," a seven-minute ramble that covers the well-lived life of Martin's grandfather-in-law from his point of view, summing it up with "My young heart was overcome with both joy and sadness." It's a mood that describes The World at Night perfectly -- the album radiates so much care, empathy, and genuine emotion, listeners can't help but be touched by it.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares