Youth Lagoon - Wondrous Bughouse - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Youth Lagoon - Wondrous Bughouse

by Daryl Worthington Rating:9.5 Release Date:2013-03-18

"Living in a 3D world", are the perfect opening lines for Wondrous Bughouse, the latest album from Youth Lagoon (aka Trevor Powers). His debut album, The Year of Hibernation, was - as the title suggests - an intimate and deeply personal record, lo-fi pop built on minimal arrangements of piano, synths, guitar and drum machines. This, his second full-length, is a richer, multifaceted album both lyrically and musically.

'Mute', the first vocal track after the brief instrumental introduction of 'Through Mind and Back', begins with chiming arpeggios and a Shangri-las-style basic beat of hi-hats, and kick and snare drum. The song progresses through twinkling piano interludes overlaid with fractured guitar bursts and synth noise, before launching into a guitar solo which sounds like it could be from a lost Crazy Horse song, and a rousing chorus. The press release for the album describes Power's "intrigue with the metaphysical universe and blending those ideas with pop music". For a lesser songwriter, this description could sound incredibly pretentious. However, the meandering structures of the songs here combined with Powers' ability to keep them grounded in engaging pop melodies justify the ambitious intentions.

An obvious point of reference for Youth Lagoon is the bedroom pop of the likes of Daniel Johnston or Half Japanese, not least because his voice bares a striking resemblance to Johnston's. However, through this naivety, his songs have become increasingly complicated and eloquent. 'Sleep Paralysis' starts of with a dreamy, lullaby melody played over soft organ chords as Powers coos: "You have made a grave mistake and sleep paralysis shows me what it is". The dreamy slumber is destroyed by the abrupt launch into a nightmarish carnival waltz built on metallic drum hits and wobbling guitar twangs. As Powers sings "Sheppard, I've been lost too many times to be free", the contrasting instrumentation and lyrics combine perfectly to describe the fearful, waking, temporary paralysis of the songs title.

The whole album has a grainy warmth to it, with the slightly distorted piano and echoey drums merging seamlessly with Powers' voice. Youth Lagoon's first album showed a gift for arranging songs with minimal components into mini-epics. As with Year of Hibernation, the majority of the songs hover around the four or five-minute-mark, but contain the right balance of variety and strong melody to always be engaging.

The tracks are thickly layered, such as 'Third Dystopia' and 'Raspberry Cane', which build blankets of guitar, synth and piano around Powers' voice to give an almost orchestral fullness to them. Listening to the album on headphones reveals hidden depths in the production. 'Dropla' has eerie echoes and reverbs floating around the mix as Power's sombrely sings, "You'll never die, you'll never die", with more and more ambient textures, just on the verge of being inaudible, added with each repetition.

'Pelican Man' at moments sounds suspiciously close to The Beatles' 'I am the Walrus'. This, in many ways, shows the greatest strength of this album. Throughout there are moments which sound familiar. The album could be placed in a middle-ground somewhere between post-Pet Sounds Beach Boys, Daniel Johnston and Grizzly Bear. However, Powers' ability to arrange the songs in lush and varied ways, and his unique, engaging voice as a songwriter, mean that beyond these superficial reference points it has an identity all its own.

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