Youth Lagoon - Wondrous Bughouse

A cosmic and ethereal experience manifested through the psychedelic pop sound of Youth Lagoon’s second release.

Additional Info

7.9

ALBUM: Wondrous Bughouse

ARTIST: Youth Lagoon

2013

Alternative

An experience that captures the physical and spiritual essence that life can be composed of; Youth Lagoon’s Wondrous Bughouse is an ethereal album that explores the metaphysical. Its dreamlike nature is its curse as well as its blessing, being what stuns but also bewilders. Trevor Powers, who gave birth to Youth Lagoon in 2011, has created a unique, whimsical second album that explores life, death, and all its complications as well as possibilities. With strokes of lyrical brilliance and experimental production, Wondrous Bughouse strays a little bit from Powers’ signature sound that was produced on his debut album, The Year of Hibernation. Not being as simplistic and modest as his first album, his second plays around with a more chaotic vibe and ambiguous lyric content. This cultivates the paradoxical nature of the album, as the psychedelic pop is mesmerizing, yet inaccessible; the poetic nature of the album is beautiful but only from a distance.

Powers’ production has evolved from simple pop beats and charming piano riffs to a clearer sound on tracks such as "Mute" that do not sound as muffled and minimal to tracks such as "Daisyphobia" that seem even more cosmic and complicated in structure. What Youth Lagoon has done well over the years is expanding on its sound and focus. It does not seem as experimental and unstable, yet still has a disjointed feeling. Some tracks sound like two different songs altogether glued into one and some tracks just sound like a galactic trip like a flashback to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The range on this album is more developed with topics of religion and death plagued all over. The album is reflective with no real destination, again its biggest achievement and downfall. From lyrics like, “Mortals, we are mortals on the run/ God you’ve seen what I’ve done/ you know where we come from/ and yet we’re children of one” on Daisyphobia to “A pause in speech/ all mouths watering/ the gardens of the Earth/ it blooms in the seed/ I welcome the leech/ that lived in your birth” on Third Dystopia, some content is more obscure while others are thought provoking and straightforward.

The album contains triumphant achievements with tracks such as "Raspberry Cane" that is one of the best produced of the album with its delicate piano details and hazy sound, the content is also great as Powers sings of life and death. It encompasses the perfect combination of dream-like and pop aspects without being too subdued. Pelican Man is another winning track that sounds like a modern I Am The Walrus. But feels inconsistent with "Third Dystopia" and "The Bath". The album is an adequate second album that does not underestimate the sound or style that Powers is known for, but its incongruent nature and thick accessibility leave it far from perfection. What Youth Lagoon has put forth is a spiritual album that is beautiful nonetheless, and with the progress that has been made thus far in production shall only lead to a clearer destination for their third album.

“Mortals, we are mortals on the run, God you’ve seen what I’ve done, you know where we come from, and yet we’re children of one”

1. Through Mind and Back
As if for a soundtrack of a horror sci-fi movie this track opens the door to the peculiar world and mind of Trevor Powers. Started with a warped piano with a delay effect, this track sounds like a broken old music box or player piano. It’s completely unique in its eerie and hollow sound. Besides that fact that the track is not particularly in tune or has a climax or even transition well into the following track, it almost works. It has cultivated a reflective like tone with its delicate rhythm and asks the question of “What is this?” It is possibly the track most reminiscent of his first album with its simplicity. And as an introduction it does a mediocre job of presenting the album, but that’s simply all it can do. 7.0
2. Mute
Powers succeeds tremendously with this track. From its simple beginning that carries his trademark dream-like, mystical sound that plays against a complete transition into the song. With this relentless shrilling sound, the song continues alongside galactic and psychedelic noises and a hazy guitar solo. It is as if Powers is taking the listener on a trip through a different galaxy or a tour of some dream with his production but his lyrics tell a different story. Powers talks of the physical world of today with snippets of God and the Devil that adds a theological tone. “Living in a 3-D world/ where the clock is in control" describes the world that he is only familiar with, and through lyrics such as, "The devil tries to plague my mind/ but he can’t quite get inside”. Powers plays with the idea of a spiritual world. The production coincides with these lyrics cooperatively with the song’s transition and also the change in clarity of Power’s voice, which is really lovely. Powers is breaking from his sound of simplicity that he has manifested in his earlier work in order to create beautifully complex tracks, such as this one, with great ease.8.5
3. Attic Doctor
The psychedelic side of Youth Lagoon is very apparent on this track with influence from what sounds like MGMT, songs like "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!", or just some off kilter circus music. The song radiates this uncomfortably playful tone that creates a sort of youth. With a spine-chilling piano background coupled with chimes, maracas, and other chaotic sounds, the track is a bit of a mess, a composed mess nonetheless. But something about the production sounds too forced and unoriginal, without the creepy lyrics the song would fail altogether. When Powers sings “I don’t mean any harm/ you can trust me like your own brother/ but he’s just nicer/ and I will die soon/ that’s what they say when I corrupted your laughter”, it brings the song together, even though the lyrics have a very ambiguous meaning, ironically they make the song sound coherent. Aside from that last line being completely poetic, the melody brings out the sinister nature of the lyrics. Like taking a bad trip or being trapped in an insane asylum, the song is uncomfortable, but the lyrics lend reason. If the song was shorter or had a contrasted bridge, it might not come off as obnoxiously strong. 6.5
4. The Bath
The basic piano riff and foggy vocals are mirroring the sound of Powers’ first album, The Year of Hibernation. The track starts simple and calming as Powers sings of water with the lyrics “The water talks to me/ it teaches me to swim/ watching myself bathe/ without ever going in". His lyrics seem to carry a heavier latent meaning, especially line such as “A reel without film/ to watch is not to see,” which carries a preacher-like undertone. As if Powers is trying to convey something, a life lesson maybe. It’s mystical and unnerving. It’s whimsical and disjointed. The chaos of the interlude and the subtlety of the acoustic guitar and piano contrast as if two worlds, spiritual and physical collide, like a baptism. This song cleanses and creates curiosity. It’s a whimsy track worthy of someone’s attention.7.5
5. Pelican Man
The lyrics of this track are truly morbid and inaccessible, which is captivating and even beautiful. The energy of song is carried in the lively production of the song that shouts psychedelic Beatles and Animal Collective. But it’s really good. The triumphant piano and drum combination are exciting and uplifting. The fadeout of the song is a little too long, but other than that the song holds strong. “You wanted, you wanted/ to know that they could never survive/ There’s blood in the carpet, the basement, the attic,” Powers sings in his squeamish and childish voice. Sounds like he’s describing a murder by a child as if they did not know any better. Then the song takes a turn in tempo and vocal sounds as Powers sings, “You are a pelican, you are a pelican man,” which sounds like a modern version of "I Am the Walrus". It may not be the most relatable track, but it is whimsical and wonderful in its deranged beauty.9.0
6. Dropla
The delicate guitar riff and tear-drop-warped piano with Powers’ childish vocals hold that signature Youth Lagoon sound. The electric guitar in the background balances the track so it’s not too chaotic. The song seems to be about a loved one passing on as Powers talks of a nurse and the difference between the physical and spiritual world. He discusses death and portrays being in denial about her or his death as he sings over and over again, “You’ll never die.” It could play as a double meaning as his or her spirit may never die or that he just cannot accept his or her inevitable fate. “The angel of state can’t wait to seize all of your land” is a gorgeous lyric referring to the death of his loved and her spiritual nature that will consume him or her. The song transitions in tone into a more reflective tone than a playful one. “You weren’t there when I needed you/ I watched you going under,” Powers sings, as he knows that physically his loved one is no longer. The song takes a darker turn, but is the well-awaited climax of the song. His voice is strong and not as fragile vocally; it captures pain and loss. It’s a beautiful track and is one of the best on the album. 8.5
7. Sleep Paralysis
This song has a trippy rock opera feel to it with its quirky off-kilter melody that sounds like a spooky ice cream truck anthem. The song content and title is terrifying and attractive simultaneously. The classical piano, low distorted guitar, loud industrial noises and gorgeous acoustic guitar create this odd and haunting combination for a track. Sleep paralysis is the state in which REM is interrupted and the victim seems awake but unable to move. Some have associated it with an evil spirit or paranormal activity and have described it as quite horrifying. What Powers has crafted here is a haunting experience that is completely fitting of the title as well as content. “Killer kiss, the kiss that takes/ the breath away from every evil/ you have made, a grave mistake/ and sleep paralysis is showing me what it is,” Powers cries as if talking to a malevolent force. A hypnotizing song that has left Powers paralyzed but able to see the truth that is a product of his time for introspection. A very unnerving track, but a well-crafted one at that. 8.5
8. Third Dystopia
This track is more playful in sound with bouncy hammer-ons and hollowed vocals. It’s light and airy, but the vocals are hard to hear and the lyrics are completely inaccessible. This track is one of the weaker efforts put forth by Youth Lagoon. It drones on for five minutes with no aspiration or momentum. There is no final destination. Although the lyrics may be pretty from a poetic standpoint, they do not seem to work well and the song seems to fail. It is a failed attempt at a track that may want to preserve a certain sound that Powers has crafted previously. Nothing stands out; nothing keeps it afloat, making it simply fall flat. 6.0
9. Raspberry Cane
The hidden gem of Wondrous Bughouse, "Raspberry Cane" is luminescent and otherworldly. The looming and cosmic synchs in the beginning fade into a simple and gentle guitar riff that is echoed by a piano. It’s hopeful and makes an impeccable rhythm transition into this R&B like beat. The repetitive percussion and strong piano backbone create some of the best production on this album. It ranges all over in sound and even radiates a bit of classical inspiration with the buzzing piano. The lyrics are bit more apparent in content but still not completely understandable. Powers draws a vague outline of the relationship between humans’ curiosity of death and their departure from life. “This dimension and the next/ of the living and the dead/ the wave into a corpse/ everybody cares" are the opening lines that give a stable enough idea of Powers’ lyrical intention. Still harboring on the metaphysical, the song is a fanciful ride of sound and content that one should get lost in for its seven minutes with no hesitation.9.5
10. Daisyphobia
This twinkling conclusion is a smart choice to close out the album. Like a celestial dream coming to an end, the sparkling synths and gurgling hysteria that has been concocted for this track is mesmerizing. It is evident that the production alone is complicated and enjoyable and that the lyrical content is unnecessary for this track, but what Powers has written is some of the most powerful lyrics on this album alone. “Mortals, we are mortals on the run/ God you’ve seen what I’ve done/ you know where we come from/ and yet we’re children of one,” Powers proclaims in the beginning of the track. It works that he is not singing it as compared to the rest of the album, since it acts as almost a summary for Wondrous Bughouse. This track is not just another one of Youth Lagoon’s psychedelic pop songs, but a melodic conundrum that will captivate as well as close the door to the spellbinding mind of Trevor Powers. 8.0
Written by Margaret Farrell
Margaret Farrell is a writer from outside Chicago. She is currently a student at New York University, studying journalism and creative writing.



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