Curtis Harding is back. Two years since his debut, Soul Power, wooed critics with buckets of retro soul and R&B, the aptly named Face Your Fear is a sophomore album with no small mountain to climb.

From the get-go its clear Harding isn’t aiming for the mountains at all though – he’s heading to outer-space. Opener ‘Wednesday Morning Atonement’ is drenched in enough trippy organs and wailing fuzz guitar that it sounds more like a missing track from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon than a soul number. Title track ‘Face Your Fear’ keeps up the theme with spacey echoes of an ambient string section backing up Harding’s voice, as he proves can falsetto to rival the best of them.

Tracks ‘On And On’ and ‘Go As You Are’ really hit the sweet spot between the old and the new. The old-school sound he managed to pull of so effortlessly in the first album is there, but this time with a cool shimmer and fresh irreverence that indicates an added maturity to the songwriting since we last heard him.

Where Soul Power saw Harding mastering short catchy tunes, Face Your Fear sees him laying down stretched out grooves and funk heavy jams. With most tracks hitting the 4 minute mark (as opposed to just one on his previous LP) it’s clear Harding is trying form a far more ambitious body of work. Namesake Curtis Mayfield instantly jumps to mind as a major influence, and for the most part Harding manages to pull off the more complex sound.

But maybe there can be something to be said for keeping it simple. The second half of the album doesn’t have quite the same urgency as the first and begins to drag as Harding tries out new sounds and ideas without really hitting the mark. Luckily final track ‘As I Am’ with its rolling drum beat and existential lyrics ends the album on a high note, and proves Harding doesn’t plan on aiming for anywhere but the stars.

There is plenty of material here to keep old fans happy, and maybe gain some new ones, but Face Your Fear isn’t going to change your life. If anything though the album proves that sometimes new artists have to take the plunge and make a few mistakes before being able to grow. If that’s true then Curtis Harding is most definitely taking the challenge and diving in head first.

Face Your Fear is out now via Anti- Records.