Youth Lagoon - Wondrous Bughouse
Wondrous Bughouse finds Trevor Powers emerging out of hibernation, armed with an album dedicated to the formative advice extended to him at the centrepiece of his debut: “Don’t stop imagining. The day that you do is the day that you die.” Where that imagination - both musically and production-wise - seemed kept within the confines of his childhood home, here it explodes outwards, reaching into space. Like all fantasias however, the expression comes packed with both the gorgeously fanciful and the darkly surreal. The anthemic qualities and grandiosity on display here, not just through a production upgrade but within the songwriting itself (the majority of the tracks exceed the five-minute mark and contain multifarious leaps and lurches in sound and mood), expounds a new self-confidence in Power’s explorative compositional capabilities. The melody of ‘Raspberry Cane’ has this anxious, psychedelic Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young at the wrong RPM quality; the wooziness that infuses ‘Dropla’ gives way to the urgently emotive, eyes-screwed-shut refrain “You’ll never die / you’ll never die”. ‘Mute’ meanwhile, is humongous, propelled by crashing drums and celestial synths, building through a guitar solo that would have seemed near-inconceivable two years ago, all the way up-until the final, triumphantly teetering piano-line – undoubtedly the album’s highlight. Throughout these moments of grandeur though, the pervading abstract edge of the album always breaks through. The endearing bedroom-pop melodies and personal lyrics that characterised Year of Hibernation give way here to the overarching sonic vision of a disintegrating cosmic circus. A lyrical fixation on death and grotesque imagery, and songs punctuated by dissonant pulsating loops reach their most queasy and discomforting on ‘Attic Doctor’ and ‘Sleep Paralysis’. When you buy into the aesthetic these aspects prove to be immensely successful. But, particularly when combined with the occasionally grating pitch of the vocals, songs sometimes have the effect of being pushed too far. It's a bit like witnessing a shrill 4-year old sing/squawking ‘adorably’ on an ancient home-video. Like all coming-of-age stories, Youth Lagoon’s music has its flaws, errors of judgement and mishaps, but the truth is having broken free of the small-town boundaries he was looking to escape, Powers has returned with a clutch of truly memorable songs and an album of impressive and exciting scope. It’s a 2K13 recasting of the ‘Summer of Love’ from the perspective of a boy who gets anxiety attacks and has spent too long indoors with an iPod full of Elephant 6. And that, in many ways, is wonderful.