Around the time Trevor Powers was set to release his first record for free, before Fat Possum or any other record label came calling — or rather, begging — there was an insatiable desire for home-recorded dream pop. Atlas Sound, Wild Nothing, Real Estate… the list goes on and on, an endless wealth of nostalgic-tinted, lo-fi recordings that fans, websites, and magazines couldn’t get enough of. As a result, Youth Lagoon’s initial rise always felt forced, and his debut nothing out of the ordinary, a collection of expected music.
But now, as time has passed and tastes have shifted, Powers’ brand of estranged psych ambiance somehow stands alone. And he wouldn’t have it any other way. In talking about his debut, The Year of Hibernation, Powers consistently brought up the fact that his music is dictated by what haunts him, not by any contrived sense of nostalgia, no matter how retro or en vogue his songs may sound. The ability to escape the misappropriation of The Year of Hibernation proved vastly important in the growth of Youth Lagoon, but Wondrous Bughouse ushers in a new era for the ambitious musician.
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“Instead of the mostly personal stories Powers was so insistent on telling throughout The Year of Hibernation — an exercise no doubt necessary for his overall maturation — Wondrous Bughouse is a much more outward-facing record.”
“Gone Through Wind And Back” begins like the score of a slasher film, a dark and hollow track just barely held together by the tense nature of it all. But as it finally fades to black and the last whisper of a computer key trails off, “Mute” begins, erupting in a flurry of kick drums and guitar, a pace-setting song that’s more indicative of how the rest of the album will play out. But it’s the inconsistencies, the minor details, that truly showcase the level of detail Wondrous Bughouse possesses, a facit of composition that was sorely lacking on The Year of Hibernation. Case in point: the dramatic keys at the end of “Mute.” Bookended by otherworldly, oscillating synths that sound like the drunk rambling of an alien race, this noise helps to enrich this world that Powers has created. Without putting the entire onus for the record on intros and outros, these small but significant adornments do a great job of summarizing how Powers’ songwriting tendencies have changed in just a few short years.
Instead of the mostly personal stories Powers was so insistent on telling throughout The Year of Hibernation — an exercise no doubt necessary for his overall maturation — Wondrous Bughouse is a much more outward-facing record. Squarely focused on atmosphere versus characterization, Powers’ world is that of bizarre, slightly off-kilter yet recognizable patterns. Borrowing from Sparklehorse, especially on the expansive “Raspberry Cane,” or Animal Collective’s more obscure numbers, as is the case with “Attic Doctor,” Wondrous Bughouse is the secretly macabre children’s book to Hibernation‘s memoir. On “The Bath,” the funhouse mirror type filters wobble and bend through five minutes of garish dreamscapes. “You’ll never die/ You’ll never die” repeats Powers on “Dropla,” once more hinting at the fantasy world he has created for this record. Fairy tales and folklore, Wondrous Bughouse is the car in a David Lynch film, always driving too close to the guard rail, constantly flirting with the possibility of toppling over the side of a mountain. And while it is no doubt terrifying, the end result is equal to that of the beaten path. Powers’ twisting, melting melodies and playful vibes help to offset the sometimes puzzling record. While it may leave some listeners confused, Wondrous Bughouse is a singular experience, no longer content with just blending in with the crowd.