06 Mar, 2013

Youth Lagoon – “Wondrous Bughouse”

Wondrous Bughouse

People stop acting like children, for one thing, because they are conditioned to, out of some sort of perceived social necessity. Another reason though, is that years are added to a person’s life in layers–piling on, relentlessly wrapping the individual in layer after layer of the harshness of life, slowly deadening them to the outside. An adult feels so much less than the average child because their life-shells have become thick, their lenses fogged. Where things were once bright, they become dim. Of course, that child is still inside, it’s just hard to reach when they’re enveloped by so much of the adult world.

Much like the cover artwork itself, Wondrous Bughouse resembles a trip through the depths of someone’s psyche, with the childlike wonder still penetrating all the way through the filters of adulthood. The record starts out with two-and-a-half minutes of ominous chiming and vibrato from sources unseen and unknown. It drips and ebbs and fizzles out when all of the sudden, the dramatic melody of “Mute” kicks on. This moves into the less-standard fare of carnival sounds, airy highs, and unnerving lows that make up the rest of the album.

Youth Lagoon’s central nervous system essentially lies in that of Trevor Powers, who has hit the sweet spot already with 2011’s acclaimed The Year of Hibernation. Immediately, his second release for Fat Possum seemed to carry the scent of ‘Clap Your Hands Say Yeah syndrome'; the first albums by each respective group were entirely unlike anything else on the market. They had melodies so catchy, they were almost familiar, but truly the product of people doing something new. They laid forth a profound and meaningful soundtrack that turned out to be exactly what the young audiences (of 2005 and 2011, respectively) were thirsting for.

One after the other, each song was a well-composed piece that stood up on its own, while beautifully building a cohesive long-player. They were produced in unconventional ways, but were still dealing in pop music. They had weird vocals that could’ve been annoying if they didn’t fit so well (is anyone still following this metaphor?) Then, IN CYHSY’s case, the band produced a second album that felt lackluster in comparison. Where the parallel ends is that Youth Lagoon’s new record is different–but far from a letdown.

Though Wondrous Bughouse is a certain departure from previous successes, the new material moves into a deeper sonic territory that only makes sense as a progression. Where the first one is generally straightforward, Youth Lagoon in 2013 employs far more textures to create complex compositions, resulting in a dense listen. Each song is bursting at the seams with sound–the kind of sonic flood that would be overbearing if not arranged by a single person. Though Powers did have guest help in the form of minimal instrumentation, this is largely a solo effort, a singular vision. Nevertheless, it sounds like there’s an entire orchestra playing along, and Powers is just the conductor at the head of it all. Tremolo’ed to the nth degree, bouncy synthesizers dance with playful sound effects, often burying the cartoonish vocals. It is generally head-spinning and quite trippy (I feel like these things need warning labels sometimes), but not in a ’60s way. If we’re getting into eras, parts of the album are reminiscent of the Big ’80s more than anything else.

This music has a strong proclivity with childish whimsy, but beneath those top layers is a profundity that can only come from a person who’s grappled with many life experiences. There’s also a sense of copying, that this is a piece of art produced during a time of tribulations. The singsong-y childishness doesn’t necessarily say that ‘everything is alright’ but it is a comforting presence amidst the heavier undertones. The album feels wrought with emotion, but the landscapes traveled are lush and rewarding.

Review by Cal Huss.

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