‘Shangri La’ portrays complex reality


By Carl Nadig

Jake Bugg is arguably an artist who possesses an old soul, and he proves this in “Shangri La.” It’s a rarity when listening to musical hits on the radio to discover such artists.

Officially released Monday, “Shangri La,” while being a relatively brief album, clocks under 45 minutes and reveals a complicated world of heartbreak and disappointment.

Just like other uprising singer/songwriters from the United Kingdom, Bugg is a profound musician for his callow age of 19 years old. In “Shangri La,” Bugg acts as the album’s blinded soothsayer, helplessly watching an impending storm, full of frustration and helpless dread. Frightened by the sudden change, Bugg awaits the storm’s approach.

For the characters in Bugg’s world, dreams of finding happiness are flushed away by life’s filth and drowned in a downward gyre of unpleasant reality. For example, in “Messed Up Kids,” one friend delves into prostitution and drugs while another finds gambling, and all are chained by poverty. While the lyrics seem overly melancholic, it is Bugg’s brightened guitar playing that provide “Shangri La” with enough evidence for representing reality with earnest. It is a beautiful quality that songwriter Elliott Smith knew how to use effectively and with ease.

Attempting to dig himself out of his turmoil, Bugg provides enough light to pass through the gray clouds for love songs to transcend above the muck. While “Song About Love” and “Me and You,” echo in the middle of the album, they are short-lived and don’t reach the same impact as the album’s other existential songs.

Paralleling a quality embedded in folk music, Bugg’s songwriting acknowledges the realistic nature of growing older and the convoluted aspect its process. Just like Bob Dylan’s third studio album, “The Times They Are a-Changin,” Bugg’s newest album is an earnest, colorful piece with themes of self-doubt, hypocrisy and confusion.

Yet, despite its heavy subject matter, “Shangri La” shares an uplifting strength that reminds its listeners they’re not alone in their fears during the blackest hour of a storm. As the album concludes, Bugg appropriately ends with “Storm Passes Away,” where the songwriter focuses on a reaction to his fears: “as the clouds roll by, I can see the sun shine … where will you go when the storm passes away?”