Album Review: Wondrous Bughouse – Youth Lagoon
One of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes of all time (though not my absolute favorite) involves some sort of “psychic vampire” who lives in the penthouse suite of a very fancy hotel. The “vampire” calls down to the concierge and asks, for reasons that escape me at the moment, that they send him up a bellhop. Sometime after the bellhop arrives in the penthouse the “vampire” delivers a long meandering soliloquy which I’m sure was intensely dramatic, but also happens to escape me at the moment (as you can see, the episode in question is apparently nowhere near one of my favorites). I understand that I’m not doing anything close to an adequate job of describing this Twilight Zone episode, but I assure you there is a point to all of this. Once the “vampire” (to be totally honest, I’m not even sure if the man in the penthouse was a vampire, or some kind of satan-like figure anymore) finishes monologuing he then attempts to cajole the young bellhop into dealing away.... dun, dun, dun!!!... a year of his life.
As you can imagine the bellhop was taken aback by all of this, and not exactly keen on the idea, though the man in the penthouse would not be deterred, and continued to “reason” with the bellhop. Eventually, in true Rod Serling-like fashion, he got what he desired (at least, I think he did), and I wish I could do something similar to Trevor Powers, the 22 year-old creative force behind Boise Idaho’s Youth Lagoon (you see, I told you there was a point).
Since the release of his 2011 debut, Year Of Hibernation, I’ve been genuinely intrigued by the talent, promise and youth of the curly-haired, boyish, bedroom recorder with the quirky voice and massive imagination who goes by Youth Lagoon. His first record sounded like the private experiments of a musician who was emulating his influences, while discovering himself as an artist at the same time. It was a brief if minimal glimpse of things to come, which both brimmed with possibility and contained a great single.
That was all roughly three years ago. Now there’s a new Youth Lagoon album, and it appears Powers has raised his own bar.
Wondrous Bughouse is a broader, denser and more adventurous record than its predecessor, and is without question among the best releases to have dropped so far this year. In a recent Indie Music Filter article, Powers is quoted as saying this album generated from: “becoming more fascinated with the human psyche and where the spiritual meets the physical world.” Such existential subject matter is obviously nothing new to the cherished art-form that is music, but when it’s tackled by a 22-year old it conveys a humongous sense of confidence; said confidence fuels this album's psychedelic fire.
As a listener it is easy to feel Powers pushing the artistic envelope from Wondrous Bughouse's opening track. Through Mind and Back is a two and a half-minute ambient stage-setter which starts the record off on a spacious and illusory note, before quickly evaporating and making way for Mute, the album’s first traditional song and sonic achievement. Those of you who read Clef Notes regularly are already aware of the fact that I thought highly enough about Mute to make it a Track Of The Week, and after dozens of listens it still retains all of its airy and melodic charms. It’s after the album’s first two tracks where (for me), the adventure truly began.
There is so much to discover within Wondrous Bughouse. Take Attic Door, for example, with its swirling underwater carnival feel, waltz-time, Victorian leanings, and superb synths- the song at moments sounds like Animal Collective covering Sgt. Peppers. How many of you out there have been waiting for that? Pretty much all of you? That's what I thought. A few tracks past Attic Door resides the Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd homage Pelican Man, with its reversed song structure, cascading arpeggios, spot-on vocal deliveries, and interstellar atmosphere. Pelican Man was a thoroughly eye-opening experience for me, and it led to Dropla (also a former Track Of The Week), which is without question the most Youth Lagoon-y track Trevor Powers has ever written ("Youth Lagoon-y" is now officially a term. You’re welcome, internets). Dropla is an immaculately produced builder, drenched with more aural splendor than you can appreciate in one sitting, which features an obscenely effective mantra-like “You’ll Never Die” refrain, and truly stands out as Powers’ most complete composition to date.
The truth is, Wondrous Bughouse is a record which requires a multitude of listens before you can truly appreciate the effort and intricacy Powers puts into his work. Songs such as Third Dystopia and Sleep Paralysis reward their listener, as each movement offers up new excitement for your ears to enjoy, while the album’s two closing numbers (Raspberry Cane and Daisyphobia) are microcosms of all of Powers’ influences, projected through his wonderful neo-psychedelic kaleidoscope. You can hear classic rock chord progressions, hybridization of beloved song-structures and audible echoes from the always-open mines of pop-greatness.
I have been writing about music long enough now that I often find myself working on an act/artist’s second record during my “tenure” and, honestly, situations like that of Wondrous Bughouse typically fill me with anxiety. After all, I really enjoyed the first Youth Lagoon record, and it would have been a real drag to feel differently about this one. Thankfully Trevor Powers made this process extremely easy for me, and provided the world with a fantastic record I imagine it will be enjoying throughout the year, and probably for many more to come. Now if you’ll excuse, I’ve got to conduct some Twilight Zone research.