Reviews
Youth Lagoon: “Wondrous Bughouse”

I first stumbled upon Youth Lagoon’s Wondrous Bughouse as a single, streaming, hour-long track. “Youth Lagoon must be jumping on the proverbial bandwagon of edginess with this album-song,” I thought, assuming that this time around, Trevor Powers (the young Idahoan behind Youth Lagoon) had decided to forgo individual tracks. I later discovered my error – Wondrous Bughouse boasts of ten songs – but the album still sounds like a unified piece: for those 51minutes, I was entranced by Powers’ sweeping dream pop tour-de-force.

 

Indeed, Powers already made use of such smooth, uninterrupted musicality in his 2011 debut album, The Year of Hibernation. I’ve listened and relistened to that album, and I still can’t tell where one dreamy ballad ends and another begins. On Wondrous Bughouse, Powers finds that same continuity, masterfully linking his songs until they’re part of something larger, grouping stars into constellations. After all, isn’t “Through Mind and Back” simply a prelude to “Mute?” Neither song could reach such echoing, emotive heights on its own.

 

Despite the two albums’ similarities (including Youth Lagoon’s telltale slow and simple synth melodies), Wondrous Bughouse is a far richer album, one in which Powers toes the line between lo-fi and psychedelic pop. Whereas The Year of Hibernation offered catchy, sugary tunes, Wondrous Bughouse fleshes out those strains by exploring new textures while softening and blurring vocals. For example, in “The Bath,” Powers overlays computerized warbles with his own beautiful and unintelligible murmurings. When lyrics do cut through the echoing chords, they’re mystical, almost incantatory. Powers no longer sings of “a hoodless sweatshirt [and] black leggings” or “the campground out by the lake.” Instead, in “Dropla,” he chants and repeats “you’ll never die, you’ll never die, you’ll never die.” In the album’s penultimate track, “Raspberry Cane,” he begins with a quiet introduction – bereaving those who claim “love exists” – only to launch into a soaring 7-minute musical epic that rises and falls before petering out into a soft, mournful keyboard solo.

 

On Wondrous Bughouse, each song is both a part and a whole, at once essential to the album’s linear progression and self-contained. While Powers handed us a stack of pretty patterned paper in The Year of Hibernation, with Wondrous Bughouse he has folded and refolded these sheets into origami cranes and stars.

 

Jane Balkoski