Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Album Review: Youth Lagoon - Wondrous Bughouse

Album Rating: A
The début album of Youth Lagoon (aka Trevor Powers) was one which covered a surprisingly ambitious amount of ground, especially considering the juvenescence of the artist who produced it. The Year of Hibernation was ambient, atmospheric and experimental, and it showed Powers to be fiercely purposeful as well as a perfectionist. The guitar and piano which often underpinned his songs such as “Seventeen” demonstrated his eye for detail, as layer upon layer of intricacies comprised each song and were easy to miss if not for equally adept attention from the listener. His vocal delivery was delicate and ethereal if not effeminate, and it haunted the melodies as if from the past rather than coexisting with the songs in the present. What’s more, the progressive passages which were commonplace showcased his experimental side, as they spiralled unpredictably at every turn, and were as likely to begin a song as they were to see one out.

What’s immediately clear from his second album Wondrous Bughouse, is that Powers spends as much time gathering the inspiration for his music as he does meticulously layering it. Steering well clear of typical and clichéd topics such as relationships and breakups, Powers delves into the human psyche and examines its fragility as well as the broader topic of “where the spiritual meets the physical world.” Its influence is noticeable from the off, as the creepy, disjointed sounds which reverberate on instrumental opener “Through Mind and Back” cause a well crafted, nagging unease. “The Bath” builds upon the tension and feels like a voyage into a mind more tormented than our own, whilst “Raspberry Cane” muses: “This dimension and the next/the living and the dead/everybody cares,” in a thought provoking display which encompasses humanity’s uncertainty of its own importance and sanity. This lyrical and thematic exploration into the human mind pervades the album throughout, and charms and appeals far more than any tale of heartbreak ever could.

But it’s not only the lyrics which have improved. Where he was content to be overruled by the music and drift in the background on The Year of Hibernation, Wondrous Bughouse sees him adopt a more commanding position. Never brash or forceful, Powers instead takes a small step forward, and in the process becomes the very picture of self-assurance that wasn't always evident on his début. His more pronounced, confident delivery shines and provides many highlights, and whether it’s on the Animal Collective inspired “Attic Doctor” or the grandiose “Pelican Man,” the songs benefit from his greater sense of purpose. The progressive passages which featured heavily on his début are maintained and built upon further on Wondrous Bughouse, epitomised by the expertly balanced “Mute.” An upbeat, infectious melody is married with a fleshed out instrumental section and a simply brilliant chorus in perhaps the album’s greatest showing of how far Powers has come since his début. Elsewhere, the psychedelic “Pelican Man” features a piano and drum combination which accentuates all that surrounds it, whilst “Dropla” succeeds in balancing beauty with intimidation through an eerie groove and the foreboding repetition of the words “you’ll never die”.

Wondrous Bughouse takes everything that made The Year of Hibernation so captivating and builds upon it confidently. Featuring a bulked up track listing and an extending running time in addition to a more assured vocal performance and a captivating theme, Wondrous Bughouse sees Trevor Powers emerge a solo artist who is rapidly completing the transition from promising to accomplished.

Track List:

1. Through Mind And Back
2. Mute
3. Attic Doctor
4. The Bath
5. Pelican Man
6. Dropla
7. Sleep Paralysis
8. Third Dystopia
9. Raspberry Cane
10. Daisyphobia

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