Trevor Powers is living out the dream of almost any aspiring musician who’s making music on his own. In just a couple years, Power has become one of the darlings of the indie scene, earning critical praise and carving out a loyal and growing fan base following the release of his acclaimed debut, The Year of Hibernation. Hibernation was basically the definition of bedroom artistry. It’s an intimate record, almost like reading someone’s diary, yet also sonically fascinating. Although it’s an extremely capable record, The Year of Hibernation sometimes felt so small, so raw, and was at times appreciated more so for what it represented that for what it actually presented musically.
Wondrous Bughouse is a stunning step forward for Youth Lagoon as a musical project. While Hibernation was practically obsessed with the slow-build-to-anthemic-climax song structure, Wondrous Bughouse presents an array of arrangements that are both experimental and strange but still completely approachable. Opening with the stilted, dark “Through Mind and Back,” the album brings the listener to a place that is ultimately uncomfortable and claustrophobic. Yet, when “Through the Mind and Back” ends and you hear the cathartic “Mute” open, you suddenly find yourself in one of the more visceral music experiences likely to reach your ears this year. “Mute” is a force ‒ it shape-shifts, changes directions, grows and shrinks, and yet still somehow manages to appear lush and oddly soothing. This opening duo presents the album’s flair for contrasts that enhance the sonic impact.
The maturity of Wondrous Bughouse is perhaps the biggest surprise of the album. There really aren’t many inevitable, youthful misfires or issues. The most obvious manifestation of this maturity is the album’s stunning production. Every note sounds crisp, every melody that could just be a throwaway on any other album is magnified, vital, and resonant. Furthermore, Powers eschews the muffled vocals that characterized almost every corner of his previous album and instead reveals that he possesses a powerful voice that was only occasionally conspicuous on The Year of Hibernation. “Raspberry Cane” showcases this mature artistry most visibly. Part of me wishes this song was the album’s closer, because it’s a perfect example of the rousing crescendo Powers appears to have mastered.
Part of this maturity can be attributed to Powers’ enlisting the help of experienced producer Ben Allen, who has worked with the likes of Gnarls Barkley, Christina Aguilera, and, most notably, Animal Collective on their 2009 hit Merriweather Post Pavillion. You could spend a while comparing this album to some of the Animal Collective’s efforts. The psych-folk nature of “Attic Doctor” would feel right at home on Sung Tongs, and almost every song has that ineffable aquatic quality that characterized much of Merriweather, making you feel like this album was recorded underwater. Powers also achieves that aesthetic of darkness and dread steeped in twisted glee. “Dropla” is a synth-driven song that could easily be danced to ‒ until you hear the grim, mortality-obsessed chorus.
A song like “Dropla” shows how much Powers has grown as a musician. It illustrates the freedom he feels as a musician that comes with complete artistic confidence. Even though it is an album built on highs and lows and darkness versus light, Wondrous Bughouse feels like a smooth, cohesive unit. This isn’t just the work of a promising young artist. It is the work on a young artist who has completely found himself, honed his skills, and developed his unique perspective.
MP3: Youth Lagoon “Mute”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl