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The latest album by Youth Lagoon is an immersive and radiant composition that shouldn't be overlooked by musical explorers. "Wondrous Bughouse," released March 5 on Fat Possum Records, is the brilliant sophomore release by Trevor Powers of Boise, Idaho, who uses the stage moniker Youth Lagoon.
What makes this album so dazzling is the atmosphere Powers created for the album and how he then manipulates that throughout the 10 tracks. Once you adapt to the Youth Lagoon world you can fully appreciate the masterpiece; it's like the musical equivalent of the movie "Avatar."
Powers, 22, soaks his songs in mixture of synthesizer and bass drum then layers in a ton of ambient electronic noises. Most of the time it sounds like Powers singing in a sensory deprivation tank while the music ranges from quirky to beautiful. As a composer, Powers is seemingly random with his utilization of abrupt and dramatic changes in melody. Collectively, the album is a psychedelic and psychological examination of emotion and physical science.
"Youth Lagoon is something so personal to me because writing music is how I sort my thoughts, as well as where I transfer my fears," Powers said on his Fat Possum profile page. "My mental state is usually pretty sporadic … a lot of this record was influenced by a fear of mortality but embracing it at the same time. Realizing that human life is only great because it is temporary. Experimenting with ideas about dimensions. I'm not a gifted speaker, so explaining things is difficult for me. But music always makes sense."
The exploration of mortality is omnipresent on this album, such as on the song "Dropla," where Powers just echoes the refrain, "You'll never die, you'll never die." But, it's the nearly six-minute journey that takes the listener to the dark side and back again. The song sounds like in spring how the air smells like rain.
"Attic Door," is a surrealistic carnival disco with Tim Burton on the turntables, and then after about a minute in the song, it meanders along a fantastical and spacious journey before closing as it began.
One of the finer points of the album is most songs fade into one another which helps keeps the magic going throughout the entire album.
The incredibly personal sounding "The Bath," is a quiet reflection, however, Powers is nearly inaudible (as he on most of the tracks) which adds to the mystery of this elusive artist.
My favorite track on the album is "Pelican Man," which is hypnotic and at times sounds like a sped up outtake from "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Powers echoes his voice and builds layer upon layer until the crescendo at the end of the refrain, "You are the pelican/ you are pelican man," then rockets off into a jammy bridge. Instead of ending on a high note (what I would have done), Powers dismantles the song, brick by brick finishes with odd notes from a demented pipe organ.
Powers' shy, crackling voice is a great complement to the mechanical rhythm of "Third Dystopia," which is ironically the warmest track on the album.
A close contender for my favorite song is the nearly seven-minute "Raspberry Cane," that actually has an acoustic guitar bridge which seems so out of place and perfectly set, at the same time. The upbeat bridge that carries that first verse into outer space is almost as impressive as where it leads. What comes out on the other end of three minutes is a Beatles-inspired melody.
"Wondrous Bughouse" ends as it begins, with an entirely instrumental track that tries to transition the listener from the physical world into the imagination of Youth Lagoon.
Youth Lagoon will perform 8:30 p.m. Friday, May 10 at Union Transfer.
Tell me what you think about "Wondrous Bughouse," on Twitter @DBCurrent #thehighnote.
Read the High Note with Shaun Smith every Saturday on shorenewstoday.com.