I’ll admit it, I wasn’t impressed with Youth Lagoon’s last album. In fact, it took me a few tries to even get through the whole of The Year of Hibernation. That’s not to say that I thought it was horrible. In fact, I could hear real potential there. But listening to that felt like coming across someone’s audio diary and creepily listening to it as they sat in the next room crying themselves to sleep. It was startlingly honest and intimate, as if Trevor “Youth Lagoon” Powers was locked inside his own head, whispering quietly to himself as he tinkered on a toy piano – all the while Madlib programmed bass-tastic beats in the background. It was an odd combination of intimacy and audacity.
And his voice? Well, Powers sounds so meek and small, slathered in a grainy reverb that barely allows his voice to escape long enough to tickle our eardrums. It’s like a ghost whispering to us in the middle of the night. Maybe that was the effect Powers was going for, I don’t know. I do know this: despite my lack of connection with that record, I still felt like I wanted to protect the kid. I wanted to be Adam Baldwin to his Chris Makepeace. I wanted to push the bully to the ground that picked on him at recess. It’s the overall vulnerability that makes Youth Lagoon’s music appealing and endearing. I just wish there was a little more sonic meat on that musical bone, if you will.
A couple months ago saw the announcement of Youth Lagoon’s new album, Wondrous Bughouse, produced by Ben Allen (Animal Collective, Deerhunter). After the first listen of lead single, titled “Dropla,” it felt like the clouds had parted and a ray of melancholy light had shone through. This is Trevor Powers. A little guy with a big soul. He’s retained that intimate strain in his voice, but has surrounded himself with a beautifully massive sound – heavy on bass, synths and an airiness to the production (think Deerhunter’s Microcastle). It’s big, emotional, spiritual and quite moving. Powers’ refrain “You’ll never die / You’ll never die / You’ll never die” is brought to another level of emotional release. It’s a meditation on mortality that is quite beautiful, and wouldn’t have had the heft that it possesses had it been recorded as an intimate bedroom 4-track production. Producer Allen has given Powers the means to become the big idea artist this song shows he truly is.
“Mute” is the second track off of Wondrous Bughouse, and it proves the first track is no fluke. Equally emotionally hefty and filled with lush production, Powers comes off like a younger Bradford Cox in the vocal department. Two minutes in it’s as if Panda Bear came in to help on the sonic textures. It’s an aural maze that you never want to find the exit to.
So I can say that I’m officially a Youth Lagoon fan. My instinct was that Trevor Powers had something special, but the vehicle in expressing that something special wasn’t resonating with me. But with Wondrous Bughouse, I’m convinced that I’m maybe now seeing the light. Wondrous Bughouse comes out March 5 via Fat Possum.
Note: ZeCat Editor / Owner Greg W. Locke LOVES the first Youth Lagoon record, and thus had a hard time publishing anything negative about it – even if J does come around a bit in the end. Maybe, as J implied, Greg just wants to protect Trevor Powers. Either way, Greg agrees that the new YL record is sounding like a doozy. Maybe even an early AOTY contendor.