Album Review: Youth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse (Pop Press Pick)

youth-lagoon-wondrous-bughouseThis is the feeling of weightlessness. Youth Lagoon possesses some intangible quality that sends the soul soaring, that permeates the chambers of the heart through auditory channels, evoking airy wisps of memories. Indeed, the poetic sketches of beautiful lyricism at the center of these songs are the aural equivalents of hazy Polaroid snapshots. Wondrous Bughouse, Trevor Powers’ (Youth Lagoon) second full-length album, is a glorious album, aglow with beautifully layered sounds, textured instrumentation, and haunting lyrics.

Powers takes us “Through Mind and Back” on the opener, as he navigates eerie synthetic soundscapes. Here the dark synth structures rise to the surface, where henceforth they will be present but relegated to the background, as Powers focuses on more buoyant, hopeful instrumentation. This opener is a dark, introspective twilight before the dreams that will come.

When “Mute” kicks in, the listener emerges from the shadows into a bright and shimmering world of sunlight. Powers has taken the skeletal structures of his debut album, The Year of Hibernation, and translated his approach into full-bodied, ambitious songs, as evidenced here and throughout the remaining eight tracks. Only a minute into “Mute,” the mix morphs into an experimental backdrop of dissonant sound. When Powers pulls out of the sonic nose-dive, the song sounds a little like a U2 radio hit undercut by avant-garde synth flourishes, and the melody is inspirational. “Mute” is one of the year’s best songs so far.

On “Attic Doctor,” Powers tries some new tricks with an approach that could be called circus-pop, or maybe experimental-ballroom music. With its 3/4 time and accent bells, the song’s quirk works to great effect, and sets up a musical motif with its waltzy quality. “The Bath” returns to the feel of Powers’ debut, but possesses greater sonic depth. Wondrous Bughouse is rewarding on headphones, especially on this track, which features deeply resonant bass notes and snare clicks that skitter across the song’s background. The song swells to a floating climax before stripping down again, finishing with Powers vocals sounding like they are sung underwater, appropriate to the song’s title.

In his own words from the song “Dropla,” Powers encapsulates the emotive sentiment that pervades the album, singing, “You’re playing a song, one that’s for me/ While my physical body is turning in my grave/ …I reach my arm across the bed and hold your hand/ The angel of state can’t wait to seize all your land/ You’ll never die, you’ll never die.” These words are strangely beautiful and mysteriously dark. Like a photographic still, Powers’ writing knows how to immortalize personal memory as he sings, and although the exact interpretation of the songs remains elusive, emotional rawness bleeds through.

The later album tracks contain fewer hooks, but offer more in the way of darkly moody, carefully textured pop. “Sleep Paralysis” gives us wavering, dreamy pop that dances through 3/4 time while “Third Dystopia” utilizes quick vocal climbs and falls over distorted drums. “Raspberry Cane” feels like a desolate, windswept plain with the promise of a sunrise just on the horizon. Wandering piano and heavy gothic synths serve as the backbone for the waltzy “Daisyphobia,” which closes the record, evoking scenes of a haunting dream of a masquerade ball—another metaphor that could personify the album as a whole.

The truth is that every track on Wondrous Bughouse deserves focused attention and careful consideration. True to its name, the album is teeming with busy, ornate pop like a thousand ants crawling around a labyrinthine structure. After one of the most celebrated albums of 2011, Powers has surpassed his previous efforts with his second album—obliterating the sophomore slump; this is the sophomore soar. Immaculately produced, beautifully written, and elegantly composed, Wondrous Bughouse is one of the year’s best so far, and although it’s only March, we’re betting that’s likely to remain true.

Listen to “Mute” from Wondrous Bughouse here:

About author
Bryan Parker is a writer and photographer living and working in Austin, TX. He is the founder of blog Pop Press International and print journal True Sincerity and recently released his first book, a volume on Beat Happening in the 33 1/3 series.

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