Youth Lagoon explores rich, sensational soundscape
‘Wondrous Bughouse’ highlights Trevor Powers’ buoyant vocals
Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 01:03
Youth Lagoon’s sophomore album, “Wondrous Bughouse,” expands on what made its debut so magical with a cavernous and complex record. The intricate melodies and hazy synths create a feeling of open−eyed wonderment on the album that is likely to stir strong emotions from listeners.
People aren’t likely to call what Youth Lagoon is doing original. Bits of Tame Impala, Animal Collective, James Blake, MGMT and “Sgt. Pepper” (1967)−era Beatles can be heard throughout. Youth Lagoon, though, is smart. These parts aren’t just simple mimicry but rather tools for constructing very specific vibes. What these elements do is more substantial than mere production tricks and point to some highly talented and knowledgeable musicians at work.
Many tracks feel like grown−up lullabies in the comforting way that they wrap themselves around the listener’s ears. The charming instrumental opener explodes into the next song, “Mute,” in a way that shows that the band is constantly trying to do different things on “Wondrous Bughouse.” While having this large of a scope can be risky, it pays off immensely here because it keeps the album interesting even in its quieter and more elaborate moments.
There is a buoyancy to lead singer Trevor Powers’ voice that sounds amazing with the songs’ productions. The record’s longest cut, “Raspberry Cane,” is an example of how the tenderness and airiness of Powers’ vocals sell the song and its ambiences without ever seeming slight or weak. He sounds otherworldly at times and yet he is always completely human in his delivery.
These feelings on the record are so strong that even on the tracks where the reverb and echo are so high that the actual lyrics can’t really be completely understood, what Youth Lagoon is trying to get across is still incredibly clear.
Not only does most of the album make listeners feel, it also makes them think. The atmosphere of one of the record’s earlier tracks, “The Bath,” calls to mind the stronger moments of How to Dress Well and Bon Iver in such a way that listeners are likely to ponder exactly how Youth Lagoon constructs its songs so brilliantly. At first they sound so simple, that is until you try to unpack all that is crammed onto the track.
Despite the gorgeous texture of most of “Wondrous Bughouse,” the album is also unafraid to sound strange and un−pretty at times. Paradoxically, this choice makes the band sound all the more beautiful overall. The huge amounts of echo on tracks create a pleasant harmony with Powers’ vocals, even if this effect muddles them in the process. Even the few disharmonious electronic touches add to the texture of the tracks and nicely counter the songs’ overwhelming warmth.
If there is a flaw in the album, it is that no song stands out as a potential single or entry song. The album unfolds cohesively, and feels like more than a collection of songs. It benefits from being heard straight through, with all its ebbs and flows and odd additions playing against each other. All the tracks are pieces of the larger whole, and none of them captures everything that makes “Wondrous Bughouse” so special in itself.
On the album’s centerpiece, “Dropla,” Powers repeats the lines, “You’ll never die/ You’ll never die/ You’ll never die” around the song’s earnest and reassuring instrumental. The lyric lives in the fascinating space between a childish hopefulness and a defensive denial of reality. It is yet another example of how exact and profound the record gets.
The almost hour−long running time of “Wondrous Bughouse” goes by in the blink of an eye because of the band’s smart musical choices and the precision of its production. It’s a record that will likely influence many young musicians as well as foreshadow Youth Lagoon’s future success.