From the abstractly named songs of Wondrous Bughouse, to an album cover so lucid it could be the landscape of an acid trip, Youth Lagoon (aka Trevor Powers) prepares his listeners for something special, or at least bizarre, from the start – and does not disappoint in either respect. Following on from the success of his debut album, The Year of Hibernation, Powers’ continues to create detailed, intricate tracks thematically driven by what he describes as “psychological dysphoria”. This thematic niche is what initially made Youth Lagoon stand out. Powers’ first album was a detailed and personal collection of songs, with his ethereal, echoing voice being given centre stage to communicate the feeling of existential helplessness the album was based upon. Retaining this niche and producing more original, high quality tracks was the single biggest problem presented to Powers’ in the production of Wondrous Bughouse and he manages to both maintain what made his debut album great and evolve his music to the next stage.
The onus of communicating the difficult psychological themes Powers is dealing with falls less on samples of his own ethereal voice this time and more on excellently produced tracks, often interspaced with a more commanding, powerful (but never too aggressive) performance from Powers– a difference I find greatly improves the ability of the music to make an emotional connection with its audience. Indeed, this is crucial to the success of the album, it is clear that Powers’ music is as much about the subject of the song as it is about the song itself and piecing these two tricky pieces together in a way that works is something Powers’ does remarkably well. The first track, “Through Mind and Back” makes no hesitation in delving right into the complex theme of mental confusion and uneasiness. Disjointed off chord beats reverberate throughout, combined with the noticeable lack of any vocals, Powers sets the tone for much of the album with this instrumental opener which stirs a noticeable unease. “The Bath” enhances this unease with its eerie, yet confidant vocals and emotionally tormented waling, whilst the repeated refrain “you’ll never die” of “Dropla”, however unsubtly, forebodes a message about the fragility, and sacredness of life.
Powers vocal performance on every song is persistently excellent. His assured delivery masterfully captures the emotions each song intends to engender, with “Mute” epitomising his brand of emotionally charged lyrics united with a catchy, upbeat melody which Powers can call his own. “Attic Doctor” transports you back to a day where the lights of a fairground were irresistible with its rhythmic beat. This track encapsulates the emotional desperation that pervades beneath much of the album. There is an element running through every song which constantly reminds the listener the gravity of the themes Powers is dealing with, despite the frequently cheerful beats– this, I feel, is one of Powers greatest successes as an artist. Unfortunately however, Wondrous Bughouse is not without fault – it’s one being the structurally divided nature of the album. It is difficult to make a connection between the melancholic and emotionally intense offerings of the first half such as “Through Mind and Back”, “Mute” and “The Bath” with the more psychedelic, cheerier offerings of the second half. “Raspberry Cane” and “Daisyphobia” end the album on a confusing and different note to how the album begun. The themes, such as psychological dysphoria, which came across very strongly in the first half, tail off during the second half – which I feel is a weakness of the album.
Wondrous Bughouse is a clear evolution from Powers’ first offering and shows just how far he has come as an artist in a relatively small amount of time. The themes Powers communicates; such as loneliness, fear and confusion can resonate with everyone who listens to his music. Everyone will get something slightly different out of the album depending on how they interpret it. Wondrous Bughouse is Powers developing his niche, and sees as he evolves into a more confident, experienced artist.
Words: Morris Seifert