Album review: Youth Lagoon comes up for air and ambience with ‘Wondrous Bughouse’
Youth Lagoon’s second album, “Wondrous Bughouse,” captures the mercurial cerebrum of a 20-something thinker with aural examples of torturous moments in young adulthood. In lieu of conversation, Trevor Powers will exorcise his chronic anxiety by making records with vistas of psychedelic musical plains. These pathways to Powers’ mind funnel in the ambience of the Cocteau Twins and mysticism of Tangerine Dream.
Powers’ debut, 2011′s “Year in Hibernation,” is a cave of nocturnal emotions easy to absorb on a rainy day. Its minimalistic course steers from foggy pianos echoes (“Montana”) to crystalline synth jabs accompanied by supple guitar tones (“Daydream”).
In contrast, “Wondrous Bughouse” is a colorful listen appropriate for any shadow on the sundial. Anxiety and mortality are Powers’ muses on this merry go ’round spun by fear’s illusory demons. Such subjects creep up at any hour. Powers chooses to place them throughout the album in a helter-skelter, yet concise fashion.
“Wondrous Bughouse”‘s opening track, “Through Mind and Back,” rests supine in the dark night of pessimism. Its murk relaxes itself onto “Mute” the way a swimmer would churn through the Black Lagoon, weary of the creature that waits beneath. “Mute” acknowledges “Through Mind and Back” with lyrics that describe a world unseen by a worried consciousness’ filter. Powers tampers with a style that mimes a short attention span. His conscious thought deviates from subjects while it maintains the same overarching emotional tone. Powers indicates these shifts with ellipses. Found in the belly of sentences, or clamped on the tail end of his accounts, they illustrate the constant swing of an overactive mind’s pendulum.
The album’s macabre themes drown in resilient affirmations of longevity. Powers insists, “You will never die, you will never die” on “Dropla.” While the death of a loved one is a perpetual shock, the after-effects felt for miles, “Wondrous Bughouse” squelches the pain. It calls for those left to remember how simple things — a song is Powers’ example — can play and cause the mourner to recall the one he or she misses. Through the power of memory, people can achieve immortality.
The track that follows “Dropla” is an abstract sonic dimension built around a beguiling circus march. It dictates a whirlwind lack of lucidity and control when anxiety pilots a body. A terrifying hybrid of John Phillip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” and the sluggish drone of the Beatles’ “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” “Sleep Paralysis” teeters on the edge of insanity.
Yet, “Wondrous Bughouse” has the ability to quell a soul’s turbulent waves. After the tumult of “Sleep Paralysis” — during which Powers loses his grip on his synth and plays in keys that sound like a string quartet with eyes that have become black and white swirls of what-was — comes “Raspberry Cane” and “Daisyphobia.” Both carry emotions less severe than what he explores in “Sleep Paralysis.” Powers appears to come-to-terms with what plagues him.
If “Wondrous Bughouse” is Youth Lagoon’s in-depth exploration of spiritual planes and the endurance of human life with the comprehension of mortality, then by the end of album its leader resurfaces. When Powers comes up for air, something as brief as life is worth the pursuit — no matter the turmoil it takes to achieve this realization.