When Kyle Craft made his debut album—2016’s Dolls of Highland—he did so on a laptop in a laundry room in Shreveport, Louisiana. He played almost all the parts himself (except for some drum tracks), and recorded with the freedom that comes with being relatively unknown.

By contrast, Craft made his new record Full Circle Nightmare with a full band in a real studio in his new home of Portland, with producer (and Decemberists guitarist) Chris Funk watching over the proceedings. And this time, he recorded with a successful debut in his rearview mirror—released via Sub Pop Records, no less—but also with the psychic weight of sophomore-album expectations.

Craft says the toughest part of making Nightmare wasn’t wrangling a band, or adjusting to the possibilities of a studio, or even knowing there were people out there eagerly awaiting his next record. It was loosening his grip on his own songs.

“I’m definitely not a tyrant in the studio by any means, but I certainly have a real problem letting go of exactly how I think the song should be,” he says. “But I let go by the time we were in there... We recorded live [as a group], so we couldn’t really go back in and change stuff. We had to get it right. So I’d hear something and I’d be like, ‘Ohh, I don’t know...’ and Funk would be like, ‘Kyle, chill out. It’ll be fine.’”

Funk was right—Full Circle Nightmare is a rousing sophomore effort. Though his Sub Pop affiliation might suggest he’s an indie rock artist, and his acoustic guitar might paint him as a folk singer/songwriter, Craft’s music is pure rock ’n’ roll, with touches of showy Bowie glam and his Southern roots coursing through every song. Sometimes, he’s bar-room bluesy like the Stones (“Fever Dream Girl”); others, he bares the soul of a seasoned storyteller (“The Rager”). Often, his sturdy combo of twang, rock, and brass—as found on “Exile Rag”—sounds like the Band, if they’d come up in New Orleans rather than Canada.

No matter his particular aesthetic at any given moment, one thing’s for sure: In a world of mewling vocalists and evasive songwriters, Craft not only acknowledges the autobiographical nature of his tunes—he absolutely belts them out whenever he’s given the chance. The guy is a powerhouse singer who fronts a raucous rock band, and those don’t come along that often anymore.

“That was always the music I was really drawn to,” Craft says. “I mean, I’m getting up there and rocking out and being like, ‘Aww, my heart’s broken.’ And that’s already ridiculous. But I think it’s even more ridiculous to get up there and actually take yourself seriously.”

Craft’s musical style is as much about personal growth as it is about artistic expression. The best way to grow, he says, is to grow into yourself, and not into anything else.

“If I gave a shit about what anybody thought about me, I would not be able to do what I’m doing,” Craft explains. “It’s like looking at a bird on a wire and being like, ‘Well, that’s a shitty songbird.’ It’s just doing what it does! And that’s just what I wanna try to do.” recommended