We’ve been running on the assumption that “Youth Lagoon” was just an arbitrary title Trevor Powers chose as a vessel for his sleepy-eyed musical endeavors. Could be we’re wrong. Maybe the Boise twenty-something has really discovered that fabled spring sought after by misguided conquistadores and graying adventurers since the days when atlases were mostly blank white space with funny stylized drawings by old guys taking old-fashioned psychedelics. Chances are, no, but I know he dreams about it. For him, though, it’s not the thrill of the unknown that drives him to seek what probably won’t ever be found. Eternal life doesn’t mean eternal possibility, it means eternal lounging, wading waist deep into the warm, still water of the lagoon, knowing he’ll forever be content watching the ripples spread when he moves.
Wondrous Bughouse, Powers’ second release under the Youth Lagoon name, is a shot at timelessness, clearly and simply -- a beautiful, cascading, contrived, and flawed work with all the qualities symptomatic of a great work of art marred only by its own ambition for greatness. Year of Hibernation was a good debut, one that built a tiny, semi-unique corner for Powers’ music to sit in amongst the rest of the sappy reverb-pop landfill. Youth Lagoon wasn’t “just another beach band,” but the front-and-center boom-boom-pat drum machine and clap track arrangements certainly stamped the record with a date. Bughouse doesn’t see Powers’ approach change immensely. It’s big like its predecessor, full of swelling crescendos and nearly-whispered vocals filled out with the instant-confidence pill of echo, but while Hibernation sounds like it was recorded in Powers’ house, Bughouse just feels like home. Gone are the last shreds of clean guitar sweeps, TR-909 burps, and out-of-place slow-onset synths. The mix has been molded with an expertly attuned eye so that every piece fits smoothly. It hurts when he wants it to, but for the most part it feels good. He’s in control like never before.
Building on the sturdy foundation of improved production, Powers takes us on a tour through the lush, enormous, microcosmic sanctuary that is his home. To the attic we go, then down to the basement, and, of course, the centerpiece altar of the whole ordeal, his bedroom. With each track we get the view out his window from a different angle at every conceivable time of day, from sunrise to evening to eclipse to supernova. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is the death of bedridden psychedelia, or at least it should be. “Mute” is the sound of the morning coming from the comfort of your sheets, while “Raspberry Cane” is watching the day go by unable or unwilling to get up. There’s a fullness to Bughouse on par with the warm, thick tones of Lonerism, but never does it feel like Powers is pretending to be a rock band all by himself. That’s a victory.
Being a solo musician is a complex thing. Being uninhibited can allow an artist to stretch out any way they please and reach their full potential, but this kind of unbridled freedom can lead to listlessness, lack of direction, or just general noodling. Clearly, Wondrous Bughouse is the product of a guy who felt like he could do whatever the hell he wanted, and the psychotic hooks, strange abuses of rhythm, slurps, buzzings, and crackles lead to dozens of moments of pure delight. He obviously knows when he’s done well, too, and he ends up carrying the best ideas on for ever and ever and ever, leaving the album feeling a lot longer than it actually is.
Still, the record manages to feel so candid and relevnt that it can’t be overlooked. It seems like Powers has matured, even if he hasn’t. He’s still a kid, but he’s not complaining any more about having “more dreams than you’ve got posters of your favorite teams.” His preoccupations are more serious, centering on the great unanswerables of the human condition. All alone in his room, his neuroses make themselves known, and loudly. One listen to the neo-Floydian “Attic Doctor” will leave you wondering what exactly is going on in our man’s deep subconscious. Sometimes his thoughts become more clear, as on the spectacular “Dropla,” where looping chants of “you’ll never die, you’ll never die,” seem more like chronic fits of denial than empty promises.
French Existentialist Jean-Paul Satre once said the only thing everyone can relate with is the universal inevitability of the end. Trevor Powers may not have found the fountain of youth, but his journey is, like anyone’s, another chapter in the great human narrative. The quest for self-discovery is lonely, and I’m not sure anyone’s ever even made it to the end, but getting a glimpse into the world of another as they grapple with the oppressiveness of the cold facts of living may be just what you need to take the first step. For that, Wondrous Bughouse is an album worthy of praise. Powers is a little too confident, a little too self-aware, and a little too moody. He lacks restraint and, yeah, maybe he needs to get out more. Whatever. You want perfection? Go listen to Sgt. Pepper’s or something.