Few things in life are more anathema to a young artist than getting stuck in a creative rut, especially when one has tasted success with one's first work.
Winston Yellen enjoyed a moderate level of recognition with his 2013 debut, Country Sleep, a gorgeous player that cemented his reputation as a sensitive new alt-country folk crooner with James Dean good looks.
So far so predictable - until he heard Kanye West's album Yeezus two years ago when he ended a relationship. "All the emotions that I had kept inside came flooding out. Being a white nerdy kid from Colorado Springs, I was attracted to that sound," he revealed in a press statement.
"I was tired of being a sad sack like Elliott Smith or Ryan Adams. I wanted to be physical. I wanted to make music that was physical."
The result is Ivywild, an album some hate and some love. In other words, it's destined for cult status.
It has more in common with the sound of alternative R&B purveyors The Weeknd and Frank Ocean. The 16-song cycle, recorded with 25 musicians, including his brother Abe, works out like the ups and downs of a love affair, a cinematic soundtrack doused in gasoline. Acoustic guitars are submerged in subterranean electronica.
He'll strike a match and you don't know whether you go up in flames or drown.
The R-rated Eve A gets down and dirty, a Drake-esque sex jam that exposes an aching pumper at its core. His tenor is still sweet and soulful, but it's chopped and twisted and looped, mixed into the nocturne. Whereas previously he'd invoke a night sky where you'd notice each and every twinkle, here the sky has become the sea. Nothing is as it seems and the world has gone topsy-turvy.
He's reeling and so will you. The dance-floor banger Lay Your Hands fillips like a discombobulated fish, innards exposed. The synths are slippery. His voice is increasingly desperate, as it repeats: "Nothing without my love for you."
The beatific Love Streams plays out like a rose-tinted dream, far away and unattainable, and his voice eerily Auto-Tuned at one point while he purrs: "This is my last night in your city. It's my last time in your town."
Sometimes, he melds past and present, dream and spleen, to staggering effect. The first track Finished perambulates the universe like a satellite adrift, snippets of memories buoyed on half- forgotten synths and some orchestral strings possibly pilfered from an old MGM movie.
He emotes like Bono in the dreamy self- empowerment theme Stand On My Throat, as if he has found what he's been looking for. The sensual I Give It at first seduces like a classic Marvin Gaye ballad, with Maine vocalist Heather Hibbard providing a female voice of reason to Yellen's poor- little-boy angst.
Towards the end, the track suddenly morphs. Title chanted ad nauseam, it goes heavenward. The beats pummel harder. He sings like a choirboy who has lost his way before the audience loses him forever.