There’s too much I could write about for Michael Guy Bowman for one article. He’s one of my favorite music artists. A musician whose work been there for me through the past twelve years of my life, whose work has changed and grown alongside pivotal moments in my life.
Honestly, I could write a whole book about Bowman’s music and comedy. Maybe I will someday. Probably not, but still.
For now, I want to simply paint a picture of each Michael Guy Bowman solo album. Where I was in my life, how the music affected me, how it stuck with me.
I can’t reflect on these albums in a vacuum. They linger too powerfully in my mind for any sort of analysis like that. Plus, good old Makin already did that in 2022. I can only give you my side of things, and hope that can suffice.
Mobius Trip & Hadron Kaleido
Summer vacation, May 2011. A tornado had destroyed my town and ended the school year a month early. And a 16 year old bored in their home (stuck, if you will,) found refuge in the hyper-enthusiastic fandom of MS Paint Adventures.
Right in a pivotal moment of fandom obsession, two albums released together on May 31st, 2011, right before midnight. Homestuck Volume 7, another stellar soundtrack release. And then, for some reason, an experimental vocal album right alongside it–Mobius Trip & Hadron Kaleido. Had to borrow my dang Mom’s Paypal to buy them, because I still didn’t have a bank account of my own.
MT&HK didn’t click with me at first.
Maybe not even a second listen.
But after a third? By then it was already stuck with me for life.
Deep, ambiguous lyrics sung with Bowman’s unique and charming voice. A mix of classic Homestuck video gamey music and real progressive rock type stuff. The hint that this stuff may be influential towards actual Homestuck story content to come (it wasn’t). Everything about the album spoke to me in this moment.
And it continued to speak to me for the rest of my life so far.
“Dawn of Man” paints three flashes of time in humanity and somehow works as a Homestuck track too in an unexplainable way. “No Release” helped me work through the last of some clingy teenage unrequited crush stuff I’d been paralyzed by for way too long. “Lies with the Sea” took me on a journey, “Fly” whisked me through a lifetime of dreams, and “Beta Version” was just a really good jam. From “Forever” to “Pumpkin Tide” and “Deeper You Go,” every track on this album has had a lasting impact on me. They’re silly now, maybe a little obvious in their tour through the various sections of MS Paint Adventures lore, and the album tragically lacks a Barty Anderson-inspired track to complete the concept. But it’s been one of my favorite music albums for twelve years and will always remain one.
“Chain of Prospit” in particular… Damn, that song is so fucking good.
Michael Guy Bowman and his first album made me want to become an artist, too. It made me want to create a story so powerful it could inspire a music album even half as good as this one.
Heck, it made me plan out an entire MT&HK fan adventure with a few other MSPA Forums users back in summer 2011. It fizzled out, and the threads are totally lost to time today, but the important notes I still have archived here. I don’t want to make a Homestuck fan adventure anymore, but I really loved working on this stuff so much.
Someone ought to make a movie themed after these tracks. I don’t know, strip out all the Homestuck stuff and just keep the outfits. Just capture the spirit and energy and that era of 2011 when everything seemed so bright for that weird webcomic fandom.
At first, I was annoyed by this album because it felt to me like Michael Guy Bowman was trying to piggyback off Homestuck into his own thing. Idiotic to be annoyed by that, I know. But I was 17, and 17 year olds are infamously Not Always Completely There Yet.
It took me a few listens, but I came to love this album too. It had shed some of its Homestucky energy in favor of something more original, more in line with Michael Guy Bowman’s growth as a musician.
I felt like it was a slight decline from MT&HK. It might still feel like that today to me. But it also doesn’t have as much power over my life. I had a lot of shit going on in January 2012.
School was kicking my ass more than usual. Time to start taking those college exams. Time to try and make music of my own, even if it’s crappy on purpose, because that’s part of the fun. Time to be a social life disaster. The album sort of lost me for a little bit.
But eventually I came to love it just the same.
I think it came when I got the signed Ithaca in the mail…
Yeah, I played this shit in my car instead of keeping it safely preserved as a hallowed collector’s item. Yeah, I was 17.
But sure enough, Ithaca wormed its way into my favorites. “Noun” and “Roamin’ Bowman” and all that great stuff.
Not every track is a mainstay for me, but most of them are, especially the opening track “Old Buggy Now” that I loved so much I put it into my nearly-feature-length movie Barty Anderson 4. I shot the scene specifically in order to include Michael Guy Bowman music in the movie, I have to be completely honest.
Life really changed in a year. As it should; I was a high school senior. The Homestuck fandom had changed, too. It exploded throughout the year. Reached mainstream status with the Kickstarter that fall.
A new Michael Guy Bowman album wasn’t really on my radar, but then it came out anyway like a nice little present.
And, turns out, I adored it. It’s a very big divergence from the styles of MT&HK and Ithaca, but something about it grabbed me instantly. It became one of the constant in-rotation albums for me from there on out.
When I went to college a few months later, I took a hell of a lot of walks. Sometimes 2-3 hours. Comfortable Bugs’s smooth subdued flavor carried me through so many I can’t even tell you. Bowman’s quiet, smiling voice helped me sort out really tough, sometimes intensely dramatic emotions. A song like “Three Small Words” reminded me to call my parents, while “I’m Letting Go” advised me in moving on from my high school histrionics and entering adulthood.
Nothing Michael Guy Bowman made before or after sounded quite like Comfortable Bugs. That may be part of what helped it live with me in college even as I fell out of the Homestuck fandom and moved into very different social circles.
Part of it might also be that this album had a gigantic gap before the next one. Just under three years. Bowman didn’t release much of anything for several years, and the Homestuck Music Team was dead too. Bowman even privatized most of his Homestuck videos, like he had moved on from the fandom altogether. Or maybe even from music itself, for all I knew.
Comfortable Bugs, to me, felt like the last bit of one of my teenage obsessions, growing into something that I could love into adulthood… But that basically disappeared.
So Comfortable Bugs kept me comfortable as I waited, and waited, and waited…
A real turning point in my life, and my third year of college.
I was starting on a new adventure in life–a loose class schedule where I only went to school two days a week. Writing essentially full-time on every project my erratic brain would let me.
I’d finished Barty Anderson 4. Started writing for the wildly subversive, highly unsuccessful Home Clipart Animal Deer and later Moonglasses Magazine. Came out as transgender online and to many friends, but too afraid to live out publicly (until 2021!). Had my first extremely toxic relationship, and gotten pissed off at the internet for shit like Gamergate and the rise of the far-right. Started writing a bunch of angsty poetry you’ll never get to read.
Hush was like a beacon lighting up my heart, showing the world how I felt. An absolute showstopper of moody electronic goodness. “Synchronize” reminded me of my romantic inadequacies. “I Have a Plan” fueled my burning desire to become a successful independent artist. “Tribes” channeled my anger towards America’s brewing 2016 Presidential primaries. Hush reflected the calm in the night as I walked home from the gym, tired but determined.
Comfortable Bugs ushered me into young adulthood with sooth, encouraging tunes. Hush showcased what my young adulthood had become with dark, downbeat jams.
I used to walk 20 minutes to my first class every Tuesday and Thursday at 9 AM to get to my favorite class ever–Dinosaurs and Extinctions. Dredging up the long-lost predecessors to humanity, learning about life I’ll never get to meet. And along the way, letting Bowman’s amazing album wake me up in time for class to start.
This one’s a bit weird.
We have to rewind back to 2012. Still junior year of high school, for me.
Archive came out in summer 2016, technically, but it’s actually a product of 2012, after Ithaca. Most of the tracks for this album were commissions from Bowman’s Kickstarter. Fund his band of Music Team members to meet together and play at South By Southwest.
It was the first Homestuck-centric Kickstarter, although Hussie sure didn’t promote it like he easily could have. It was the first Kickstarter I ever backed, at a tenative $15 instead of the $100 I wish I had done–dang a full song commission for that cheap is insane.
But most of Archive came from this era. Some of the songs are surprisingly excellent, some are duds, and some are just okay. “Awake (2012 Version)” is phenomenal and I’ll always have a soft spot for “Know That You’re Mine.”
The best songs on the album are the instrumental dance-heavy tracks mostly made in 2013-2014, like “Airwaves” and “The New Window.” But the commissioned Kickstarter tracks are what I think of first anytime I think of Archive.
I couldn’t attend SXSW, obviously, being a high schooler in Georgia. But I watched the hell out of the livestreams. The outdoor concert, the improv comedy session, the Q&As, all of that.
For one brief moment, I felt like Homestuck had blossomed into something even more special than I realized. This was around the same time as the music contest that would soon become Colours & Mayhem, the same time as my friends and I were gearing up to create our 48-Player Squiddle Session comic that consumed four-plus years of my life working on an unofficial prequel I prayed Hussie would one day sanction into canon, whatever that means.
Bowman making a side-piece band was so exciting to me because it meant that Homestuck was growing bigger and bigger. No longer was it just the comic by Andrew Hussie. It was this whole franchise by What Pumpkin with cool music everywhere and artists all around who could all harness the energy of my favorite comic and turn it into something personal and powerful.
The absolute joy, just watching the SXSW rehearsal videos and seeing how much fun everyone was having. The whole world was ahead of this thing.
It didn’t work out like anyone hoped, in the end. A bunch of drama and corporate nonsense interfered, and Bowman’s Homestuck-side-band never managed to take off beyond just this one event. I wish Hussie had just wisened up and said, “Holy shit, y’all are amazing. I’ll fund you to tour around all the summer cons and really bring the fandom together,” or something like that. That’s not what happened, for reasons beyond my scope of knowledge.
But that doesn’t decrease the magic that was there while it lasted.
What Pumpkin would make more strides in this area later, expanding the scope of Homestuck in many different directions with cool merchandise, with works like Namco High and Paradox Space. Showing just how cool it would have been to have a Music Team album going on adventures, recording awesome Gaiden albums together, and making troll cosplayers around North America jam out uncontrollably.
Homestuck lost that chance. But maybe some other piece of media can take the torch that it dropped, can create a fandom so powerful it gets a literal music band of ambitious kids together to celebrate it.
Maybe I’ll be the one to make that piece of media.
Jump forward again. November 2016.
I was in Japan, nearing the end of my first semester studying abroad in Nagoya.
Life had really, REALLY changed since Hush a year and a bit before. Homestuck ended, and I hated both it and what the fandom had become. My web author dreams didn’t go anywhere, my Squiddles comic had gone on a now-permanent hiatus, a horrible relationship sent me into a months-long depression, and Letterboxd had turned me into an increasing movie fanatic. Half my college friends turned out to be far-right neo-nazis, and my roommates had become increasingly hostile.
The anger and determination I felt from Hush had dissipated into a fizzle.
Then I went to Japan and left all that shit behind.
A whole new life where basically nobody knew all that shit. I got to meet new people in a new culture, got to focus entirely on having fun and studying Japanese.
I got to do stupid shit like travel to Tokyo for a weekend completely unprepared, just to visit an anime pop-up museum and also to hang out with a girl I liked. Or to take long-ass four-hour walks well into the night while listening to music.
Electric Daydreams came to me when I had started to recover from a really rough year of young adulthood. And recovery is exactly what I feel when I listen to this wonderful album.
The songs are tiny adventures by a gifted songwriter. Explorations of style, of bizarre and extremely dark topics with a weirdly comical sensibility. Almost none of them spoke to me in the way Hush did, as a direct dialogue with my own emotions. Rather, they offered little narrative windows for me to hop into and escape for a little while, to let me view the world in the eyes of someone getting their brain hacked or a maniac stalker or just a wandering weirdo, if only for a couple minutes at a time.
And then the song “Tomorrow’s Gonna Come…”
That’s the one that spoke to me. Holy damn do I love this song.
I think based on the music video this is supposed to be about being calm in the face of disaster and staying strong in turmoil in the world and whatnot. I don’t care, Death of the Author means I can take away whatever the hell I want.
And what this song meant to me in fall 2016 was to remind me that the immense emotional hardships I felt–they’re just little blips in my life. Just moments. It feels like a disaster, but I’m ready for tomorrow, and I’m ready to move on.
“No Release” helped the me of 2011 stop being a weirdo.
“Comfortable Bugs” helped the me of 2013 adjust to adulthood.
And “Tomorrow’s Gonna Come” helped the me of 2016 accept that life’s not going “back to normal.” Because life never goes backwards. It’s headed only for tomorrow.
Also, in 2017 I started writing a novella based on “I’m Seeing Everything” but I never finished it for some reason. Probably because it’d have been really fucked up lol.
Look On My Works Ye Mighty And Despair
The dumbest album title, for the most solidly decent Bowman album.
This one took me a few listens to really get into, but eventually I fell in love just like always.
It’s Bowman at his most commercial. The songs are stylistically pretty standard, and there’s plenty of cool little stories scattered throughout.
The album definitely has the fewest songs that have stuck with me for years, of anything from Michael Guy Bowman. The really long gestation period–nearly as long as Hush–probably caused some of that. But it still sticks out proudly in my mind for the moment I was in.
March 2019. Back in Japan, this time as an English teacher up in Aomori. Snowiest damn place in the world, which sucks real bad for Georgia girls like me. I was getting the Quinlan Circle off the ground, another attempt at the independent artist dream–only this time it actually had a chance. (It’s still going strong, obviously.)
Look On My Works was another set of cool storytelling treats. Sure, not as fantastic as Electric Daydreams, but what is? “Faking It” and “Night Terrors” are just kind of great, and “Unstoppable” is the anthem to LitRPG Progression Fantasy protagonists across the internet.
The album was just a great sign of Michael Guy Bowman continuing to do his thing. Encouraging me to do the same. To excel at life in Japan, to excel at my writing dreams, to really make something of myself, without the anger and cynicism that plagued me all those years prior.
Gravity Makes the Flames Rise
…Then the world fell apart.
I don’t have to remind you of what 2020 did. You remember.
It destroyed my mental health just like yours, although in a slower and deadlier way I only was able to recognize with far hindsight. It prevented me from leaving my town of 50,000 people for a good two years, prevented me from doing much but sit in my room and read manga when I was home from work.
But that didn’t stop me from releasing The Gay Gatsby on January 1st, 2021, to minor acclaim and respectable sales for an unmarketed indie title. It felt like things might be on the up and up in this brand-new year.
Then a couple days later January 6th happened and overshadowed all those good feelings.
Gravity is a great album. The songs are sometimes a bit samey, but they’re all really well-produced. And there’s a few songs on there I just adore to the ends of the Earth, namely “Manufacturers” and “With the World Sitting On Your Shoulders.”
The problem is, this album came out just a couple weeks after January 6th. A year into the pandemic, half a year after George Floyd. The world already felt like garbage, and another angry, vicious album about how much the world sucked was starting to weigh on me. I’d already got to spend months with Eat Your Dreams, honestly one of my favorite albums of all-time, and a shockingly angry work from a normally cheery artist.
Gravity was timed to release in exactly the worst possible time in life for it to make an impact on my life, and indeed it didn’t quite make a mark like every other Bowman album. Sure, I’ve listened to the whole thing through about 35 times according to MusicBee, but that doesn’t compare to the literal hundreds of most other Michael Guy Bowman release.
I’m sure it’ll get there eventually. It just might take the world to improve enough that this thing gets a little nostalgic. And we’re not quite there yet.
My last week in Aomori. I walked the beach close to my house in Mutsu. Oh, did I love long walks when the weather was nice.
I felt terrible about leaving. I loved working at my schools, I loved living in this small town, I loved living in a big house with cheap rent, and I still didn’t actually have a job offer with just two weeks to go before I was kicked out of my home.
Michael Guy Bowman, timed perfectly to a pivotal moment in my life, was there to help me through it.
Ulterior Motives is his best album, hands-down.
…Also, as I type this article on May 14th, I have just discovered I never actually PURCHASED this album. It’s my most-listened-to album in Spotify, period, but I forgot to actually buy it apparently. Whoops!
The album’s not quite a concept album. The theme is crime, is trickery, is deception, in all its permutations.
It had quite literally nothing to do with my life in any way. “Utopia,” maybe, is a nice little reflection on the struggles of creative dreamers who come up short, a feeling of inadequacy I constantly struggle with and absolutely did back then. But everything else is just some really good songs.
And that was a nice reassurance.
Some of the most stressful weeks in my entire life, and just as always, Michael Guy Bowman’s music helped me stay in the moment. Just existing and being really good was enough to keep me from succumbing to panic attacks and depression and all that bad stuff.
It’s kind of silly, thinking about this one indie music guy as comfort food throughout my life. There’s obviously a huge parasocial thing there, too, which is why I have barely ever spoken to Bowman in all these years. I’m sure he’s just an average cool guy actually talking to him, but how do you have a conversation someone whose art has made such a huge impact on your life in actual tangible ways? This guy got me to call my parents in college and helped me get over relationship drama??? I’m probably just weirdly shy for no reason but still!
So really I’m perfectly content to sit here way out in Japan and cheer on Michael Guy Bowman’s long-winding path towards super-stardom without ever actually meeting him. I’ll keep putting in Bowman references into every single novel I ever write, and if I ever get famous and handsomely wealthy, I will do everything in my power to make sure he does the soundtrack to my first movie or whatever.
It’s just paying him back for making amazing stuff like Ulterior Motives.
I intended to make this a relatively short article, and make each entry like a two paragraph little snapshot into my life along with Bowman’s music.
Oops now I wrote a 3,800 word article waxing poetic about the way music links you back to specific moments in time stronger maybe than any other medium of art. And also Homestuck fandom memories because I can’t help myself.
If I have any advice to anyone still reading all this way through this Michael Guy Bowman retrospective, it’s this: Find yourself some time to write extremely long articles about the artists you appreciate the most. It’s really fun.