Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Album Review: Youth Lagoon - "Wondrous Bughouse"

Trevor Powers is an elusive character, to say the least. In 2010, Powers took the stage name of Youth Lagoon, locked himself away and began recording Year of Hibernation, his debut album. Entirely self-reflective, Year of Hibernation served less like a window into Powers' mind, and more like a garage door. All of Powers' psyche was laid out for everyone to listen to with Year of Hibernation, which was  very well received from critics and fans alike.

Youth Lagoon signed to Fat Possum in 2011 and began touring extensively that year, but Powers never lost his phantom-like behavior. I'll never forget the excitement I had as I was about to bring a first date to his show in Milwaukee's Turner Hall last summer. I bought an amazing show/tour poster - which was later left in her car; listened eagerly to the opener - an always amazing Porcelain Raft; and then stirred with excitement just before he was about to come to the stage. Powers came out and admitted that he wasn't feeling well, a self-described "food poisoning" from his previous night in Chicago had left him ill. It was likely a hangover as I heard through word-of-mouth later, thus proving Powers to be a little fish in a giant ocean as he performed for less than a half hour and then rushed off the stage. The performance left a bitter taste in my mouth, and even though I've listened to Year of Hibernation dozens of times since, somewhere within me still lies a grudge against YL.

That never took away from the anticipation for Powers' follow up to Year of Hibernation; he had proven himself an innovator and an interesting character to say the least. Hibernation laid all of his cards out on the table, so I was intrigued to see what he had up his sleeve with his next effort.

And now we have it, YL's follow-up is called Wondrous Bughouse and once again, it takes us, as an audience, into the depths of Trevor Powers' mind, spawning from (in Powers' own words), "becoming more fascinated with the human psyche, and where the spiritual meets the physical world."

Powers continues, "Youth Lagoon is something so personal to me because writing music is how I sort my thoughts, as well as where I transfer my fears... I'm not a gifted speaker, so explaining things is difficult for me. But music always makes sense."

That last sentence really interests me, because (not to sound like an elitist ass (which means I undoubtedly will)) to the untrained ear, a lot of Wondrous Bughouse won't make a lot of sense. If I played this for my 17-year-old sister, there's no way she would enjoy a lot of it, much less make any actual sense of it.

I'm not saying I understand all of it, but that's not me implying that it's bad, nor is it important. Wondrous Bughouse helps bring to light that no matter what Powers puts his hands on, something good will come out of the experience, if nothing else because the results are fascinatingly revealing.

Powers shifts from the muffled effects of Year of Hibernation, and projects his thoughts much more vividly through music that is not only more abstract, but also more rich with content. Touching on the themes of mortality and dysphoria within the human mind, Trevor Powers seems to be finding a niche in his own music, much like that of (*sigh*) Thom Yorke; never concerned with what the mainstream sound is all about, focused more on letting the music guide him, instead of forcing any one sound or theme. Yorke was/is never concerned with making music that made sense to others, focusing instead on finding himself within the art he was creating. Powers does the same thing under the moniker Youth Lagoon, focusing on making sense of his own world through his own music. Nobody ever said music was supposed to be selfless.

Wondrous Bughouse begins, fittingly, with "Through the Mind and Back" a just-under-three-minute-long instrumental introduction to Powers' mindset while making the album. The song is sporadic and features a heavy amount of white noise intertwined with desultory keys. This is a stark contrast to Year of Hibernation's opening track "Posters," which set the tone for a more reserved and ambient album.

"Mute" is up next on Bughouse, and although the song title suggests it belonged on YL's previous effort, "Mute" is anything but quiet. It begins with a heavy drum crash, and continues with an insanely catchy song structure, as it melds in to a pop song that sounds reminiscent of Sigur Ros. The following track, "Attic Doctor" sounds like an eery carnival ride with Powers playing the part of the demented operator, speaking in to a microphone that's entirely too close to his mouth, muffling the words he's saying. "Pelican Man" has a slow build, but proves to be a vivacious track as Powers sings over looping keys, "it's not true, it's all in your head, you are the Pelican/you are the Pelican Man"

Powers addresses quite a bit more serious subjects in Wondrous Bughouse, despite the album's almost dream-like structure. Although it is probably the most heavily pop-influenced song on the album, "Dropla" is also one of the darkest, as Powers explores his own mortality and speaks of his funeral and the afterlife. The constantly repeating "You'll never die" of the chorus gets stuck in your head and believe me people will look at you funny when they catch you singing it aloud in a public place, no matter how quiet you think you are.

Every single element of the album's 10 tracks seems calculated yet simultaneously completely off the cuff. This makes it easy to get lost in Wondrous Bughouse, and even easier to admit that you don't want to come back. Youth Lagoon isn't about making music that makes sense to the listener, but to Powers himself, and there's something incredibly irresistible about that.

My Rating: 4.3/5

Purchase Wondrous Bughouse from iTunes

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