Youth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse
On Wondrous Bughouse, Youth Lagoon is an exquisitely unpredictable hoarder of abandoned and buried sounds. He piles up textures with precise untidiness and fervently proceeds to the lustrous though tenuous conclusion that is Wondrous Bughouse. He hunts through his heavy stash of aural flotsam for the choicest fragments, weaves an urgent but intricate sonic tapestry, and leaves the rest by the wayside or up in the attic.
Youth Lagoon is the stage name of Trevor Powers, the solo artist from Boise, Idaho, who released his first album, The Year of Hibernation, on the Fat Possum label in 2011. On his sophomore effort, Wondrous Bughouse, a sprawling yet precisely playful offering, Powers is king of the strange change. One of his most precious offerings as a writer, composer, and performer is his apparent addiction to hurling molotov cocktails through the windows of his songs. He does this in a way that can seem disorienting on first listen, but always makes good sense and serves the song. Extreme and sudden changes in mood, volume, tempo, or meter emerge out of the blue, causing brief bewilderment usually followed by awe and rejoicing at the deftness and frequency with which he accomplishes these eruptions.
Throughout most of Wondrous Bughouse, Powers’ sweetly damaged and evocative voice is blended and immersed like just one more of the sundry instruments and percussive objects that resonate here. There is for the most part no perceivable effort to clarify or separate the vocals, resulting in an organic though frequently muddied sound. In the current preference for relatively unintelligible vocals, some purveyors appear more deliberate than others. The veiled vocal seems to be a significant and premeditated esthetic decision for Powers. There is skilled mixology at play; his voice is not just muddied and diminished but crafted and choreographed into its subtly submerged position. The treatment of the vocals could also be perceived as a conscious step away from easy commodification and its concomitant soul-suck. Powers has spoken publicly about his appreciation of mortality as the primary source of creative inspiration in the human species. So it’s notable that the clearest and most audible vocal moment on the album consists of Powers singing “You’ll never die” over and over again on the track called “Dropla”, which was released earlier this year as a single.
There are certain haunted sounds and effects that appear in multiple tracks on the album and do much to impart an anxiously precise sense of place. One such tone has a timbre not unlike that of a steel drum, specifically fluid and metallic, misplaced and memorable. Another is a thing that could be called the carny doppler effect. It’s as if a ramshackle troupe of eastern European acrobats and their tired bear are traveling through town by train at twilight. Acres away, they leak their soaked and tattered dirges over the outskirts of town and fade into the dark woods. To this add analog worship, Northern (almost Scandinavian) angst, and bodacious decision-making, and you have a thoroughly inadequate description of the power of Wondrous Bughouse. So give it a listen and hear what words can’t do.