When Trevor Powers declared the conclusion of his Youth Lagoon project, it seemed serious but also curious. The three albums Powers had released up to that point matched his “transitional trilogy” descriptor in his note to fans, with the perfect hermetic debut of The Year of Hibernation building to the more frenzied psychedelia of Wondrous Bughouse before Savage Hills Ballroom, which advertised itself as “a collection of 10 songs by Youth Lagoon.” Despite featuring some of Powers’ most involving songs (‘Highway Patrol Stun Gun’, ‘Kerry’), it suffered from a lack of cohesion that suggested some time off to regroup and figure out what he could next.

Shedding the name and acknowledging those albums as chronicling a specific period in his life is understandable (though it doesn’t do justice to how much ground he covered, sonically and lyrically), but Powers didn’t need to make a formal announcement of Youth Lagoon ending. Fans understand artistic growth and how evolution can necessitate a name change. To some, a Bill Callahan record might sound interchangeable from a Smog one, but dammit, I can tell the difference, and it’s not just about the better recording quality.

In a more recent note, Powers assured fans that his performing under his own name was “the beginning of something new; not the continuation of something old,” but the emotional throughline of his first three albums was so well established, insisting there’s no connection to be found between them and his subsequent work meant that the pressure was on to prove that. Said note was released in conjunction with ‘Playwright,’ the first single from Mulberry Violence, his first album as Trevor Powers.

On first glance, ‘Playwright’ has enough to differentiate itself from Youth Lagoon and give you that sense that Powers is relishing being freed from whatever boxes that moniker was keeping him in. Taking the “world is a stage” metaphor and giving it a chilling new feeling of isolation (“Everyone I loved disappeared without a trace. I still call for them, but I don't have much left in me”) With its surges of distortion and creaking strings, like someone opening a door that’s not ready to be opened, it’s like The Year of Hibernation, if hibernation means hiding out in a bunker after declaring your own personal apocalypse.

For all the potential ‘Playwright’ shows, it fails to culminate the way it should. Powers has been one of the most underrated dramatists in music, giving dream pop ballads mesmerizing valleys that transcended the audio files they were encased in. Sensitive, but not precious, Powers found his own power through creating songs that served as perfect examples of what catharsis means. Yet, for a song with a dramatist metaphor in the title and lyrics (“Curtain's at nine/ Where is the playwright?/ Fucked up my line/ Deep in my wine”), ‘Playwright’ ends up feeling shapeless, with a flat, almost non-existent ending. To extend the metaphor, it’s like Powers stopped writing the script halfway through and tries to run out the clock by having everyone improvise.

Powers’ ambitions as a songwriter haven’t diminished, but Mulberry Violence is too excited for its own good. Its runtime is economical, but the constant shifts in vocal processing, strange spoken word samples, and more songs that stumble their way to the finish line, turn it into an album of constant false starts. While his Youth Lagoon songs glided from section to section effortlessly, his new album aggressively displays its seams.

It’s a frequently clumsy album from someone who’s previous music was anything but. ‘Clad in Skin’ isn’t so much a song with a saxophone solo as it is a saxophone solo with a song. ‘Film It All’ shifts between a weak attempt at Portishead and a weak attempt at Xiu Xiu. Powers’ tender falsetto, one of his most laudable assets, turns him into a stuffed-cheek chipmunk on ‘Ache’, undercutting the earlier fury of his opening line, “Intimidation will not work this time.” The strings in the midsection do their best to bail out the rest of the song, but there’s not much hope of recovery at this point.

Toying with sounds helps Powers, but only to a point. The opening bars of ‘XTQ Idol’ demonstrate control and creativity in a way most of the album (and rest of the song) can’t. Hearing Powers use his throaty squalls as an introduction is impressive, and that he turns them into a hook is even better. But the song loses direction, and the lyrics can’t sustain it. “Civilized people, brutalized people don’t know the joys of the digital.” Unless he’s drafting a thesis on anthropology in the age of social media, it doesn’t work.

Even when he tries for a more minimal approach, Powers loses his nerve. ‘Squelch’ calls to mind the beautiful ‘Alan’ that closed Perfume Genius’ last album (though nowhere as heartfelt) before falling apart into a mess of hard-panning. On ‘Plaster Saint,’ a delicate piano number is compromised by overly-processed vocals and poorly selected beats. While many of his past songs have been rife with effects, you could always discern the craftsmanship within. Take the embellishments away from these, and you’re left with practically nothing.

If Powers doesn’t manage any great songs on Mulberry Violence, he at least has a couple accomplished ones, songs that move well from beginning to end and show him controlling his sounds instead of them controlling him. ‘Dicegame’ has a chilling atmosphere enhanced by Powers’ ability to turn what might typically be read as positive affirmations (“I learned my lesson” and “I accept myself”) into something much more sinister, both towards himself and his audience. The eerie walls of distortion make for some of the best production of his career. The hazy drone of closer ‘Common Hoax’ is the ideal foundation for the most resonant singing performance Powers has had all album, greatly helped by his vocals being clear. As the strings swell, you wonder if this was the same person who seemed lost trying to comprehend blueprints they wrote.

Forget that Powers was formerly known as Youth Lagoon and that he made three albums, ranging from decent to flawless. Mulberry Violence isn’t a letdown because it doesn’t live up to expectations of what a Trevor Powers album is supposed to sound like. It’s a letdown because an immensely talented and creative spirit is struggling to let his instincts speak for themselves. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” and this album under any other name would be just as underwhelming.