Youth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse Review

Youth Lagoon Wondrous Bughouse

Wise beyond his years.

Fat Possum, 2013

8.4 / 10.0

When Trevor Powers appeared out of the ether of Boise, Idaho in 2011 as Youth Lagoon, it was truly as about out of nowhere, literally and figuratively as any act in a while. It was all the more amazing when the modest, bedroom pop and folk songs of his debut, The Year of Hibernation, hit big and was eventually picked up and released by Fat Possum. It was a true win for the little guy, made all the more obvious due to the fact that Powers looks like a young teen, despite being a relatively wizened 23 years old. He came across even older than his chronological age on his initial release, something amplified even further on his second, even better album, Wondrous Bughouse.

Powers spent his early college years at Boise State hanging around the music department and writing songs between classes and eventually recording a whole album (The Year of Hibernation) at home over the holidays. Where Hibernation was often soft, quiet, and introspective, Bughouse, while still an analysis of Powers’ own internal mechanisms, is decidedly bigger, bolder, and edgier but has not lost any of the tunefulness of his debut. Written following a breakup, Bughouse is even more about mood and nervous energy than its predecessor. And nervous energy might be the best two word review you could ask for when it comes to Wondrous Bughouse. Powers reportedly had been dealing with severe anxiety issues leading up to the recording of his second album, and the songs here pulse, shuffle, and vibrate with an electric current that never overwhelms the beauty of the songs or their sense of melody.

An apt comparison for Wondrous Bughouse would likely be the Antlers’ Hospice, which covered some similar emotional territory. Whereas Hospice had its protagonist’s relationship tale told through the metaphor of the passing of a loved one, Powers goes with a more abstract voice for his trauma, trying to capture the sounds of his own spent nerves. Fifth track, “Pelican Man”, employs electronic noise not unlike that found throughout the record, to undergird his prog laden keys and enormous, overriding melodies. The following album track, “Dropla” repeats the mantra “You’ll never die/you’ll never die” over and over, as though Powers is trying to convince himself it is true, and if the song itself didn’t come across as such a positive internal struggle, I’d be concerned for the songwriter’s safety. The standout here, is “Raspberry Cane” a silvery slab of Beatles-esque psychedelia, that Powers turns into a warm, heavy quilt of a tune, tender but hopeful. Here’s to Powers doing better, but not so much better that he can’t continue to make great albums like Wondrous Bughouse, an album that manages to be both small but large, focused but off-kilter, sad, but uplifting.

Purchase: Youth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse

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