Youth Lagoon: Wondrous Bughouse

Youth Lagoon trades bedroom anthemics for a misguided attempt at a bigger, more complex sound.

Youth Lagoon

Wondrous Bughouse

Label: Fat Possum
US Release Date: 2013-03-05
UK Release Date: 2013-03-05

When Youth Lagoon’s captivating debut, The Year of Hibernation, dropped in 2011, each and every rave review seemed to mention Trevor Powers’s age. And rightfully so—twenty-one at the time, Powers already showed off a masterful sense of pop dynamics, how to write songs with builds as massive as the mountain ranges near his Idaho home, melodies as clear and crystalline as a church bell. And there was a sense of spiritual yearning in those tracks, too, the warble in Powers’s youthful voice reaching tentatively out toward some sense of communion, a hunger for belonging. The record’s standout, “July”, is as good an indie rock song ever written by anyone with a guitar and a distortion pedal.

Powers is two years older now, but Wondrous Bughouse, his sophomore record, makes it seem like he’s gotten younger instead. Though on the surface a larger record in every sense, with more confident vocals and fuller instrumentation and louder guitars and drums everywhere, Bughouse suffers from a strange hesitance from start to finish. Opener “Through Mind and Back” sets the tone, a purposeless blob of meandering drones and clicks, likely meant to wipe Hibernation’s earnestness away from the palate of Powers’s listeners and replace it with something that signifies Real Adult Dread. Rather, it gives the first sense of Bughouse’s muddled vibe, something that never quite dissipates over the course of its ten songs.

When “Mute” picks up after “Through Mind and Back” with a steady snare and confident notes plucked high on the neck of Powers’s neck, things seem like they might be in order, after all. His lyrical concerns are back to questions of life-and-death, the isolation of an inward struggle: “The devil tries to claim my mind”, he sings, “But he can’t quite get inside”. An arpeggiated keyboard riff kicks the song into the kind of soaring highs that marked the best moments on Hibernation, but then everything slowly evaporates: reverb pours in as if overtaking a levee, swamping the mix, and Powers’s oddly noncommittal riff can’t save the second half of the track from a serious malaise. “Attic Doctor” fares even worse, a bizarre psychedelia-lite trip to nowhere, something you’d find if you left a tab of acid out in the rain all night and dropped it after it dried in the sun.

The Year of Hibernation found its power in its songwriter’s use of silence, the way Powers could let the keys rest between notes in “17” and the ache in the gap between bass drum hits in early build of “July”. With Bughouse, he doesn’t seem fit to let his songs breathe, swaddling them in multi-tracked clouds of filtered vocals and superfluous acoustic guitars and keyboards that overwhelm the skeletons beneath his compositions. The guitar leads on Hibernation were so simple and forceful as to seem totally intuitive, the best feeling pop music can bring: “Oh, this hook has always been a part of me, I just hadn’t noticed it until now”. There’s not a single riff on Bughouse that stands out half as clearly as anything on its predecessor, and the record’s swarm of noises fades from memory almost as soon as it ends.

That’s not to chastise Powers for wanting to grow. He wouldn’t want to make another Hibernation, and we shouldn’t expect him to do so for the rest of his career. But Wondrous Bughouse doesn’t expand Youth Lagoon’s sound so much as pour neon-colored Kool-Aid onto it until it’s diluted to a point where it’s almost difficult to hold onto much of anything in these songs. Growing pains, maybe, but even those usually sound like something.





Laura Nyro's "Save the Country" Calls Out from the Past

Laura Nyro, a witchy, queer, ethnic Russian Jew, died young, but her non-conformist anthem, "Save the Country", carries forth to these troubled times.


Journalist Jonathan Cott's Interviews, Captured

With his wide-ranging interviews, Jonathan Cott explores "the indispensable and transformative powers of the imagination."

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Coronavirus and the Culture Wars

Infodemics, conspiracies -- fault lines beneath the Fractured States of America tremble in this time of global pandemic, amplify splinters, fractures, and fissures past and present.


'Switched-On Seeker' Is an Imaginative Electronic Reimagining of Mikal Cronin's Latest LP

Listeners who prefer dense rock/pop timbres will no doubt prefer Mikal Cronin's 'Seeker'. However, 'Switched-On Seeker' will surely delight fans of smaller-scale electronic filters.


IYEARA Heighten the Tension on Remix of Mark Lanegan's "Playing Nero" (premiere)

Britsh trio IYEARA offer the first taste of a forthcoming reworking of Mark Lanegan's Somebody's Knocking with a remix of "Playing Nero".


Pottery Take Us Deep Into the Funky and Absurd on 'Welcome to Bobby's Motel'

With Welcome to Bobby's Motel, Pottery have crafted songs to cleanse your musical pallet and keep you firmly on the tips of your toes.


Counterbalance 23: Bob Dylan - 'Blood on the Tracks'

Bob Dylan makes his third appearance on the Acclaimed Music list with his 1975 album, Blood on the Tracks. Counterbalance’s Eric Klinger and Jason Mendelsohn are planting their stories in the press.


Luke Cissell Creates Dreamy, Electronic Soundscapes on the Eclectic 'Nightside'

Nightside, the new album from composer and multi-instrumentalist Luke Cissell, is largely synthetic and electronic but contains a great deal of warmth and melody.


Bibio Discusses 'Sleep on the Wing' and Why His Dreams Are of the Countryside

"I think even if I lived in the heart of Tokyo, I'd still make music that reminds people of the countryside because it's where my dreams often take me," says Bibio (aka Stephen Wilkinson) of his music and his new rustic EP.

Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.


A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.


The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.