Album of the Week: Youth Lagoon’s ‘Wondrous Bughouse’
by J. Hubner
Wondrous Bughouse is an album that from beginning to end fills you with joy. It comes over you in waves of awestruck and wide-eyed wonderment. Youth Lagoon, the musical alias Trevor Powers, looks to the skies and questions whom or whatever may or may not be looking down on us. If Powers’ 2011 debut, Where The Year of Hibernation, was a quiet entry into a bedside journal at 2 a.m., Wondrous Bughouse is a technicolor daydream. It’s a primal scream directly at the universe – which at it’s core – is as universal as it gets. Powers has given us what is bound to be one of best albums of the year – a kaleidoscope of sounds and emotions; a Kool Aid acid test where no chemicals are required – just open ears and an open mind.
The album’s opening track, “Through Mind and Back,” is a carnival mirror. It’s a distorted version of melody and harmony. You get the feeling that the quiet, lo-fi bedroom sound of Powers’ debut album, The Year of Hibernation, may have followed him to album number two; that is until “Mute” comes pouring from the speakers like the scene in The Wizard of Oz where the film transitions from black and white to bright color. The sound is big, full, and immediate. Renowned producer Ben H. Allen’s (Animal Collective, Cut Copy, Deerhunter, MIA, The Whigs) influence in the production of the sprawling soundscapes is evident – twisty, wavering keys and chorused guitars shimmering in the air. The intense shift in the sonics for Youth Lagoon may be quite jarring for those that hold The Year of Hibernation in such high regard. All I can say to them is stick with this record.
Trevor Powers’ Technicolor Ode to the Meaning of Life and Death
Trevor Powers hasn’t lost any of his intimacy as a songwriter. His paintings are as personal as ever; he’s merely gotten a much bigger canvas and a more diverse palette of colors to choose from. The song ”Attic Doctor” is a bizarre carnival ride – a calliope run on nitrous oxide. It’s sinister, sweet, and ethereal all at once. With its waltz time signature, ample amounts of ear candy, and dream-like haze, the track shows Trevor Powers can do more than quiet and intimate songwriting.
“The Bath” goes back to a more refined, quiet sound, albeit with the sonic exploration skills of Allen at Youth Lagoon’s disposal while ”Pelican Man” builds slowly into a cathartic release – a feeling that I can only describe as heart swelling. I’ve listened to this record several times now and I keep going back to one name: Brian Wilson. I can’t help but compare Wondrous Bughouse to Wilson’s long gestated and recently released SMilE. It’s utter exuberance and child-like wonder pervade. This isn’t a literal comparison; this is in spirit. I can’t tell you how many times while listening to this record I just stopped what I was doing and just let it wash over me.
“Dropla” is the centerpiece of the album. It’s a song about dying and what happens when we die. Or, maybe the anger and resentment we feel when someone we love dies. I don’t know. It’s a mantra of a song. I could picture a child repeating the line “You’ll never die, you’ll never die, you’ll never die”, at the bedside of a loved one, thinking in their heart it would make a difference in the end. It’s a beautiful track that would never have had the weight it carries had it been recorded in the same lo-fi bedroom fashion of Power’s debut album.
Next, “Sleep Paralysis” sounds like a song beamed in from some other time, found on some radio frequency lost for years, while “Daisyphobia” ends this immense album on a dream-like note. It’s as if Trevor Powers is singing from the edge of a chasm, one that separates us from that euphoric dream world this album comes from, and the world it leaves us behind in. Back through the looking glass you go, Alice. (10/10)
Youth Lagoon’s 2013 Tour Dates
03-13-16 Austin, TX – SXSW
03-22 Boise, ID – Treefort Music Fest
04-12 Indio, CA – Coachella
04-19 Indio, CA – Coachella
04-21 Phoenix, AZ – Crescent Ballroom
04-22 Tucson, AZ – Club Congress
04-24 Austin, TX – Mohawk
04-25 Dallas, TX – The Loft
04-26 Houston, TX – Fitzgerald’s
04-27 New Orleans, LA – One Eyed Jacks
04-28 Birmingham, AL – The Bottletree
04-30 Orlando, FL – The Social
05-01 Atlanta, GA – Terminal West
05-02 Nashville, TN – Mercy Lounge
05-03 Asheville, NC – The Grey Eagle
05-04 Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle
05-07 Northampton, MA – Pearl St.
05-10 Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer
05-11 Columbia, MD – Sweet Life Festival
05-13 Toronto, Ontario – Great Hall
05-14 Columbus, OH – A&R Bar
05-15 Chicago, IL – Metro
05-16 Madison, WI – Majestic Theater
05-17 Minneapolis, MN – Fine Line
05-22 Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom
05-23 Vancouver, British Columbia – Venue
05-24 Gorge, WA – Sasquatch! Fest
06-05 Brooklyn, NY – Barclays Center *
* with the National