Review: “Wondrous Bughouse” by Youth Lagoon

Kevin Powers, the mastermind of Youth Lagoon, broke out onto the indie music scene in 2011 with his debut album, “The Year of Hibernation,” which showcased his talent and potential. Its dreamy, lo-fi sound created the image of a then 22 year old Powers making music in the safe haven known as his bedroom, timidly singing into the microphone and letting out all his inner fears and frustrations. Each song slowly but surely built up to a grand conclusion, almost as if the bashful Powers was breaking out from his shell.

Powers’ follow up, “Wondrous Bughouse,” features a more complete sound. It all begins with the opening track “Through Mind and Back,” a murky journey through the subconscious that sets the tone for the rest of the album. The instrumental spirals down into the deepest, darkest depths of the human psyche before giving way to the crashing cymbals of the ironically named “Mute.” The sound of the rest of the album is much more confident than Powers’ debut, yet his voice detracts from this, creating a sense of uncertainty and discontent that adds to the theme of sanity, or lack thereof.

The trip through the mind continues with “Attic Doctor,” where we first hear the demented carnival music that appears sporadically throughout the album. The tune akin to that of a demonic ice cream truck is almost ambient in nature, creating a sense of mental instability and adding to the tone of the album, which is aptly named “bughouse,” an age-old term for an insane asylum. The chorus in the psychedelic anthem “Pelican Man” is just the icing on the cake, as Powers sings, “Eighteen demons lie in your bed/questioning everything you’ve ever said. It’s not true, it’s all in your head,” which further builds on the paranoia and delirium of the record.

“The Bath” follows suit with the slow-build reminiscent of Powers’ first album. It swings from mood to mood, with a moment of happiness followed by a period of dread. The almost bipolar feeling is characterized by Powers’ ability to project his emotion through his voice, an art that is rare to stumble upon in music today. Whether it be his diffident way of proclaiming “You’ll never die” in “Dropla” or his wails of wretchedness in “Sleep Paralysis,” Powers has a distinct voice for any and all emotions.

While “Wondrous Bughouse” doesn’t vary much from “The Year of Hibernation,” one distinct difference between the two albums is the production quality. Powers recorded his debut album in his Boise, Idaho bedroom, an intimate setting that led to an intimate album. For “Wondrous Bughouse,” Powers moved to a studio and worked with producer Ben Allen, who is known for his work with Animal Collective and Deerhunter, and the result was a less intimate, albeit a slightly more superior, album.

The broader sound of “Wondrous Bughouse” was expected, and what helps compensate for the lack of intimacy is the fact that it’s actually quite fitting. We hear a much louder, more extroverted Powers in this album, and it’s only appropriate that the sound reflects that. Oddly enough, however, the lyrics do not reflect that. It’s still the same old Powers writing these songs, and he continues to let everything out and holds nothing back. It’s almost like we are counselors and this is Powers’ thematic therapy session. 8/10