Review: Youth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse

youth-lagoon-wondrous-bughouse
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by BEN BROCK WILKES

After a decade marked by social digitization, political alienation, and the monetization of indie, Youth Lagoon, the musical persona of Boise, Idaho’s 22-year-old Trevor Powers, has emerged with a knack for channeling the insecurities and frustrations of existing in this cultural context. His own bittersweet introspection is made relatable by its childlike sincerity and innocence. Wondrous Bughouse is a study on daydreams, inspiration, and silver linings.

Youth Lagoon’s sophomore record stands tall and sure-footed. Powers has taken the dreamy, minimalist lo-fi pop of his 2011 debut, The Year of Hibernation, from the bedroom to the full studio, and walks out with an album of dense, experimental arrangements and delicate sonic playgrounds of melody and ambience. Psychedelic textures and noises provide a rich backdrop to booming, melodic choruses, immediately accessible from the second track, “Mute.” Live-recorded percussion has enabled more diversity in beats than was seen on his previous album and cleaner production has allowed for more audible lyrics and better effects control. Powers has not abandoned the style fans are familiar with however; Youth Lagoon still writes quirky collections of subdued, yet powerful pop, but his new record is freshly nuanced and patiently fleshed out.

youth-lagoon

Bughouse’s greatest strength is its ability to step out of time. Its songs are as rooted in the songwriting of 20th century pop-rock ballads (see: “Pelican Man”), as they are in the sonic experimentation of psych-pop contemporaries like Animal Collective or Yeasayer. Powers’ approach to making music is like a childhood memoir, the indiscriminate sincerity unleashed by writing a diary makes for seamless weaving of influence, modern and antique. Toy-like, carnival melodies on tracks like “Attic Doctor” glisten with hazy summer memory, while “Dropla” deals with watching a loved one pass away on a hospital bed by wailing, “You’ll never die.” The contrast between the maturity of song-craft and production on the album and Powers’ continuing embrace of the fearless creativity of youth make for a sound that directly confronts notions of coming of age without ignoring what came before.

Wondrous Bughouse is Powers’ anxious memoir from the past and present, delivered high-register and dripping with tremolo: “as I hear the horses drawing close, over all the corpses we have left, I’ve never seen them, I’ve never seen them.” This is Youth Lagoon, a hopeful dystopia where we face the horrors and banalities of the world with innocence, curiosity, and bravery.  [B+]

Find it at:

Amazon | InSound | eMusic

Listen to the album:

Wondrous Bughouse:
01. Through Mind and Back
02. Mute
03. Attic Doctor
04. The Bath
05. Pelican Man
06. Dropla
07. Sleep Paralysis
08. Third Dystopia
09. Raspberry Cane
10. Daisyphobia

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