We first dipped our toes into the Youth Lagoon with 2011’s mesmeric The Year Of Hibernation, a minimalist crawl through ‘gazey drone and bedroom beats that was as hypnotic as it was emotive.
For his second record, Idaho native Trevor Powers has stepped away from the DIY aesthetic of his bedsit world and ventured into the studio proper with well-regarded producer Ben H Allen (Animal Collective, Deerhunter) to create a technicolour dream of an album, drenched to the soul in lysergide, sometimes bumping into brilliance, sometimes pouring out like miles of unspooling tape onto the studio floor, uncontained and uncontrollable.
The destination of our journey is indicated very clearly, very early on: the rhythm-free but not formless ‘Through The Mind and Back’ is a disarming, alien amble through the recesses of the processor, a warm strange and tasty entrée that leads you to ‘Mute’ which is where it becomes obvious that the barriers of VHS-pop have been broken here; it’s a strongly psychedelic, deranged rainbow puke of a song most strongly reminiscent of David Baker period Mercury Rev as it churns and swirls with naivety and threat, a mass of jutting soundwaves fucking your stupid ears off.
Like the most memorable trips, this one creates some sublime eidetic imagery: on tracks like ‘The Bath’ Yo La Tengo’s finer wig-out moments are recalled as Powers’ R Stevie Moore-like vocal squeaks “The water talks to me, it teaches me to swim/Watching myself bathe, without ever going in” and a shiver-inducing bassline forms the axis around which an exploding universe of sound is created, multicoloured paints daubed on a revolving wall.
At the close of the mushroom-fed folk of ‘Raspberry Cane’ we get “Everybody’s wanting to see it come alive/Pour the ashes into a cup/Mix with water tears/’To Death’ drink up”, a seemingly infinitely repeated coda that really drenches the mind, it’s tune and intention laying eggs to hatch later.
For all this near-wizardry, though, there are moments when you’ll wish Powers had kept himself to himself and stuck closer to his low budget blueprint of old – ‘Pelican Man’ owes a debt to Roky Erickson that’ll never be paid, garbling Sixties San Francisco trip-tropes by the dozen as it falls formlessly to it’s juddering close, a wall of sound you’ll be happy to hurdle. And closer ‘Daisyphobia’ falls foul of the same shameless shapelessness – all swirling influences and no song or substance.
Happily, among all this sonic fluctuation and occasional druggy flatulence there are tunes of the first order. ‘Attic Doctor’ channels the darker VHS carnival sound of Ariel Pink through eight minutes of absolutely hammered pop that alters and shifts erratically, a beautiful melting visage revealing a hundred more faces beneath.
Then there’s the Brian Wilson (yeah, it’s got sleigh bells) charm of ‘Dropla’, a song defined by it’s childlike screams of “You’ll never die”, it’s an existentialist pop song that feels like a desperate but genuine embrace from an absolute madman.
Indeed there are moments when you’d be hard pressed to envision Powers as anything but that guy that lives in his mum’s basement and stands around in town every day, a child’s milkshake in one hand, a Tesco bag full of TDK90 recordings of his deceased grandparents’ footsteps in the other.
The wonky, uplifting clown pop of ‘Third Dystopia’ affirms this as Powers ruminates on the various spirits and sprites that populate his mind’s frozen landscape while ‘Sleep Paralysis’ gives off some ornate, organic Music Tapes vibes, an aural equivalent of those blogs that obsess over BBC Sound Effects albums and photographs of Seventies council estate children in homemade masks.
Timothy Leary once said of LSD experiences that the amount of joy and enlightenment one could gain from them would be directly related to 'Set (mindset) and Setting (surroundings)' and the same could be said for Wondrous Bughouse - if experienced sneeringly and with a simple shrug of ‘Well, it sounds a hell of a lot like Mercury Rev’ you’ll probably muster two listens and be done with it. However if you enter into it willingly and with joy it could be the kind of record you’ll be in love with for years to come.
8Matthew Slaughter's Score