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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Youth Lagoon is back with the stellar ‘Wondrous Bughouse’

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    On the immaculately named Wondrous Bughouse, Youth Lagoon’s one-man dream team Trevor Powers somehow crafts a sound that lives up to the title.

    In the record’s first track, “Through Mind and Back,” Powers begins to show how much he’s grown as a producer and musician since Youth Lagoon’s 2011 debut.

    “Through Mind and Back” is two-and-a-half minutes of ambient underwater-sounding electronics that immediately establish Wondrous Bughouse as a force to be reckoned with.

    There’s nothing innately original about starting a record with a short noise track, but there’s something about the way Powers balances his sounds across the sonic panorama that speaks to the depth of creativity behind the production board.

    Sure enough, the jaw-dropping “Mute” makes good on “Through Mind and Back”’s early promise with enormous, stadium-ready drums and an uplifting church bell sample that makes the spine tingle. Add in the swooning chirp of Powers’ voice and “Mute” rides along as a wonderful dream pop song for all of two minutes — before Powers suddenly dubs in a strange electronic sample that then guides the song through countless weird changes for another four minutes.

    These musical left turns are all over Wondrous Bughouse, so much so that by the final songs on the album you can pretty accurately predict when the big shift is going to happen. Of course, even when you know it’s coming, Powers still manages to make the “drop” engaging, which is a testament to the kind of whipsmart record he has put together.

    Elsewhere, tracks like “Attic Doctor” and “Third Dystopia” make good on the sound palette put forth by “Mute” while still evolving in the songwriting department. “Attic Doctor” in particular is memorable for its combination of an infectious carnivalesque melody and a surly waltz beat. If it weren’t for the reverbed-beyond-belief vocals, one could almost mistake “Attic Doctor” for a playful late-period Pavement song.

    On the other end of the spectrum, Powers brings his technical prowess to tracks like “The Bath” and “Pelican Man” that offer breathtakingly expansive soundscapes, yet ultimately lack something in songwriting and melody.

    However, tracks like these and the truly brilliant “Sleep Paralysis” demonstrate that Powers’ preoccupation is first and foremost with sound, rather than churning out pop songs.

    Ultimately, Youth Lagoon is a craftsman of universes and landscapes, and that suits Wondrous Bughouse’s more experimental stretches just fine. Just for good measure, Powers also tosses in “Dropla,” which perfectly approximates the kind of winsome electro-pop that MGMT was churning out in its early years, proving Youth Lagoon could actually be an alt radio band if Powers really wanted it to.

    Ultimately, though, he doesn’t, and so the listener is left with the bulk of Wondrous Bughouse which adheres to no rules but Powers’ own. Repetition and formlessness aside, Youth Lagoon really knocks it out of the park with a good deal of the material, earning a place in the current indie pantheon for anyone who’s a fan of keyboards and echoes.

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