“When the world is sick and dying, rise up!” These are the words sung by Ryland Bouchard on “Warrior #2,” the closing track of his seventeen-song, twenty-three-minute album Good World. This is, it would seem, precisely what he has done, without spelling out his prognosis. A far cry from the accessible pop of 2005’s Carousel Waltz, Good World is a fractured narrative seeking to recreate or reinvent a common mythology for us all to share, but Bouchard keeps it ambiguous enough to allow us to discern our own meanings.
What exactly are we to make of this tapestry of musical interludes? What is the significance of some of the strange creatures that inhabit this weird and fantastical world Bouchard has created? More important, what is so desperately wrong that he would feel compelled to undertake such a project in the first place? Bouchard ultimately leaves the answers to these questions up to us but, at least with the latter, he might have left us a few breadcrumbs to follow. “Sin Like Holy Men” and “Stone Giants” appear to be pointed attacks at Christianity, or at least its institution (the sycamore tree referred to in “Stone Giants” features prominently in the children’s bible tale of Zacchaeus). This doesn’t necessarily prove Bouchard sees organized religion as our world’s problem, but it’s worth noting that he hasn’t exactly shied away from criticizing the church in the past. Most notably, he compared Christianity to the Nazi regime throughout On Vacation.
Regardless of what we might think of Bouchard’s philosophy, the album’s musical composition is likely to be the biggest stumbling block for listeners. New fans won over by Carousel Waltz‘s immediate catchiness should anticipate some brow furrowing as they try to wrap their heads around the minimalist song snippets found here. Lyrics are at a premium and song structure is non-existent, leaving little to immediately grab onto. Ultimately, Good World is not for those seeking a quick pop fix. It’s a mysterious, thought-provoking work whose meaning grows with you over time.