Youth Lagoon

Wondrous Bughouse

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AllMusic Review by

Youth Lagoon's second album, Wondrous Bughouse, lives up to the first part of its name: the sheer amount of sounds Trevor Powers packs into these songs certainly inspire wonder. The Year of Hibernation hinted at the sonic depth and detail displayed here, but the size and polish of Wondrous Bughouse's arrangements make the album perfect for listening to under headphones, where every gurgling keyboard and rippling echo can really come to life. Songs like "Mute" show how far Powers has come since his debut album: full of sparkling guitars and limpid synths, it's a sonic cathedral rather than the hazy cocoons that used to surround his barely audible vocals. Wondrous Bughouse's upgraded production values don't do much to dismiss the comparisons to forerunners like the Flaming Lips -- indeed, Wayne Coyne and company would be glad to call tracks such as "Raspberry Cane" their own. However, the album's expansive palette also reveals similarities to Sun Airway's gorgeous surfaces, as well as to more traditional psychedelic pop. "Attic Doctor"'s resplendent harpsichords, and the stomping beat and churning melody on "Pelican Man," make them seem like Magical Mystery Tour outtakes, while "Daisyphobia" could have come straight from Dark Side of the Moon. As dazzling as Wondrous Bughouse often sounds, at times it's harder to find these songs' emotional pulses than it was on The Year of Hibernation. While it's a limiting cliche to suggest that a lo-fi approach is more authentic, it felt like Powers had more to say as a songwriter on his debut, and he said it with an intimacy that made it special. Some of Wondrous Bughouse's best moments use their massive sounds to convey that need instead of covering it up: "The Bath" begins with murmured confessions and a rickety keyboard melody that recall Powers' first album, then slowly swells into an epic that retains that vulnerability. On "Dropla," Powers examines mortality and spirituality, chanting "you'll never die" in a way that's a little too frantic to be truly reassuring, but is powerful in its urgency all the same. Youth Lagoon does such a good job of mining the more searching side of psychedelia that it's something of a shame when Powers doesn't concentrate on it. Wondrous Bughouse is an undeniably impressive-sounding album that will please fans who loved The Year of Hibernation for its intricate sonics, but those who empathized with its emotions might feel a tad disconnected.

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