There was such a degree of intimacy to Youth Lagoon’s debut The Year of Hibernation, it was almost overwhelming at times. Over the album’s eight songs, bandmaster mind Trevor Power painted sonic landscapes that at times felt like you were peering into his journal and soul; hushed coos of pain or sadness that gave way every song to floods of aching emotion and bombast. There was such a poignancy and intimacy to the songs one had to ask how Power would be able to capture that again.
With Wondrous Bughouse, Youth Lagoon succeeds by not even attempting to do that. The album is not so much a “next step” as it is a complete rehaul of the band in terms of not only sound but scope. The hum and buzz of the intro track “Through Mind and Back” should be the first warning, but one isn’t given enough time to get lost in it before the album bursts, not builds, to life with “Mute”. “Mute” lays the foundation for the rest of Wondrous Bughouse; it’s a sprawling slice of experimental pop, filled with dense production and piano & effects that just pop in and out, making the music instantly much more fleshed out than most of the tracks on Hibernation. Power’s vocals are now no longer the quite whisper they once were. While not necessarily “powerful”, they are no longer buried, and are treated like the expressive tool they can be. In fact, the few songs that do mimic Youth Lagoon’s old style, like the acid-tinged trudge of “The Bath”, are still warped and twisted in their sound (like the echo-drenched vocal effects) so they don’t feel detached from the rest of the album.
Animal Collective also seems to cast a large, positive shadow over the album. How else to explain the off-kilter hop-scotch that is “Attic Doctor”, with its staccato piano lines and myriad of seemingly random samples that fill every crack of the song. Or the cascading builds and falls of “Sleeping Paralysis”? Elsewhere the influence is less prominent and direct, but still leads to the same effect; Power’s is truly experimenting with his sound, and it leads Wondrous Bughouse down some kooky and sublime roads. I doubt something as bizarre or wonderful as the prog-like build and climax in “Pelican Man”, which doubles as the album’s center as well, could have been imagined to exist on any Youth Lagoon album ever, but here it makes perfect sense. Same goes for “Third Dystopia” and its swelling brand of fuzzy, indie pop, or the fractured and dark psych-swirl of album closer "Daisyphobia". Every track defeats a previous expectation of what was expected from a Youth Lagoon song, and show the true scope of the album. The fact that nearly all of the work in the weird, askew ways is just all the better.
If The Year of Hibernation was like a blanket to wrap yourself with, then Wondrous Bughouse is the album for when you open the door and step back into the world. In an alternate reality, the album would be the soundtrack to a more adult-version of the Alice in Wonderland cartoon. Wondrous Bughouse is an album you fall into, one that swirls around you and takes hold of every senses. The damaged psychosis is felt, from the new instrumentation to the cover art, but just as the album title exclaims, there can be something great within that as well. And Youth Lagoon truly found it here.
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Buy Wondrous Bughouse here, from Fat Possum