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Youth Lagoon, ‘Wondrous Bughouse’ (Fat Possum)

Youth Lagoon
SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: March 05, 2013
Label: Fat Possum

What the hell is up with Trevor Powers? On 2011’s The Year of Hibernation, the callow 22-year-old behind Youth Lagoon was singing in a muffled adolescent voice about breaking up with his girlfriend, a special childhood poster (that kitten-on-a-limb “Hang in there!” classic, perhaps?), and forlornly staring at strobing TV sets over thinly produced and heavily reverbed lo-fi guitars and synths. But two years later, if Wondrous Bughouse is any indication, he’s an indie Lautréamont, Poe, and Rimbaud rolled into one, summoning up death-trip visions of demons, ghosts, graveyards, and worms crawling in, worms crawling out, worms playing pinochle in your snout. And his music has become remarkably more sophisticated as well. If Powers didn’t live in Boise, Idaho, I’d suspect somebody had been nipping at Father John Misty’s ayahuasca.

My teenaged daughter once blithely matter-of-fact’ed me that “Animal Collective is like our Beatles, Dad.” Bughouse makes that comparison explicit, conjuring a universe where the psychedelic circus of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” from Sgt. Pepper’s meets the darker corners of AnCo’s Here Comes the Indian in the epic carnival-of-souls waltzes that provide the blood and guts of Powers’ updated EC Comics horror-shows. With the help of five other musicians (including a cellist), the densely tweaked, larger-than-life instrumental refrains here sound nearly as catchy and quirky, if not nearly so perky, as vintage Eno.

Powers isn’t quite so eloquent a wordsmith, at least not yet. His singing still resists easy deciphering, forcing one to purchase the hard copy of Bughouse, if only for lyrical illumination into songs like his heady “I Am the Walrus” remake “Pelican Man” (“They are the mouths that you never fed / Eighteen demons lie in your bed”) and the ambivalent fuck-you adieu of “Dropla” (“You weren’t there when I needed you / I watched you going under / You’ll never die”), which map out emotional territory neither grossly goth nor bathetically emo.

Like Animal Collective, Youth Lagoon craft modernist pop so perfectly of its time that we’re hardly aware of how much time has passed. Nearly everything else around sounds downright Pleistocene compared with the computer-generated (yet deeply human) visions sparked by young Trevor’s bedroom ambitions. On Bughouse closer “Daisyphobia” (which might refer to the fear of death, flower power, or both), he concludes his mortality meditations with a dirge of an appeal to God, of all people, followed by yet another dazzlingly bug-eyed waltz of a coda, one that flickers like a firefly before fading to black. It’s wondrous indeed, and not psycho in the slightest.