Idahoan Trevor Powers released his debut album as Youth Lagoon, The Year of Hibernation, in the fall of 2011, in the waning days of the online press’ obsession with all things lo-fi. As such, like others, I imagine, I was considerably skeptical of the 22-year-old’s humble piano compositions swathed in a layer of fuzz as du jour aesthetic opportunism. Where Powers pleasantly surprised me though was in his facility for arrangements. TYoH’s best tracks – “Cannons,” or “July,” for example – would start simply with Powers’ voice and keyboard figures before expanding outward in scope into beautifully plotted and often sing-along pre-choruses, choruses, and bridges. Albeit lo-fi, the arrangements revealed that there was more thought put into the music than say your average Wavves.
Two years later, on Wondrous Bughouse, Powers has taken his deft skill at arrangement and injected it with a bigger budget and the various production talents of Ben Allen (Cee-Lo Green, Animal Collective, Deerhunter). The sophomore release is a more psychedelic, expansive effort that updates TYoH’s production values while sacrificing little of its accessible knack for melody.
Simply put, the second track “Mute” is anthemic and announces Powers’ scope of vision. The drums – TYoH’s main weakness – pop, and TIE-fighter-esque noises squeal and pan across the aural field, and a powerfully simple guitar coda rides the six-minute track out to a memorable close. “Dropla” successfully integrates acoustic instrumentation, featuring a looping acoustic guitar line throughout. “Raspberry Cane,” another instant standout, is essentially Powers’ clinic in writing melody lines; at least four moments brought enormous grins to my face at the sheer melodic inventiveness of the track.
Wondrous Bughouse is a beautiful, bafflingly imaginative indie-pop record–an immersive sound world that revels in the inherent aural pleasure of melody and finely crafted detail. It’s also an enormous step forward for Powers. Wondrous Bughouse deserves the expanded listenership that it will undoubtedly attract.