Published Mar 11, 2013Youth Lagoon just released Wondrous Bughouse, a sophomore album that boasts a far grander sound than its chilled-out predecessor, 2011's The Year of Hibernation. Much of the credit for this lush new sound belongs to producer Ben H. Allen, who is famous for working with groups like Animal Collective, Washed Out, Deerhunter, and Matt & Kim.
In an interview with Exclaim!, Youth Lagoon songwriter Trevor Powers explains the inspiration behind the record's densely layered, psychedelic sound. "I had really expressed wanting to experiment a lot with surrealism and those ideas," he says. "I guess I've always been interested in having one foot in reality, or things that sound familiar in a sense, and one foot in something that seems completely unfamiliar."
He notes that Allen strove to help him achieve this vision, and the producer also gave the finished product own unique spin. The singer says, "It wasn't the case of Ben having a different vision than me — it was him taking on my vision and then him going about it. He would try to go about it a different way than I would, so it made for this healthy tension where we had the same end goal but it was this tug of war that really good — I think, essential."
Certainly, the 10 tracks that make up Wondrous Bughouse capture both Powers and Allen in their element. The reverent, pathos-laden songs evoke the melancholic beauty of The Year of Hibernation, with songs like "Dropola" and "Pelican Man" building up to beautifully soaring crescendos. All the while, lush sonic chaos bubbles just under the surface, with wobbly guitar tones and swirling ambience that at times evoke Allen's work with Animal Collective.
This ornate sound adds emotional weight to Powers' songs, many of which were inspired by the songwriter's fixation on mortality.
"My mind is always weird," he admits. "It's kind of like this kind of OCD thing where I just latch on to things that are totally — what's the word for it? — things that don't make sense. I have these intrusive thoughts that come in, and it doesn't always make sense, but it can be hard for my mind to decipher what's a realistic thought or a realistic fear and what's an absurdity. I think that played a big part of it."
And yet, despite lyrics that are filled with death, Wondrous Bughouse isn't a total bummer. This is partly thanks to the swelling instrumental sections, and much of the record's 50-minute runtime is made up of elongated jams courtesy of the full band that Powers hired for the sessions. Even though he retained sole creative control, these outside players meant that the results were different than his past solo recordings.
"It's cool because, when you hire other players to do any kind of additional musicianship, everything has a different personality," he explains. "Even if a player has a certain idea of what to play, it'll come out differently based on someone's personality. It's always interesting, because you can audibly hear where different personalities come out. Even though there's certain [pre-written] parts, it sounds different because of who it is."
Powers is performing with a full band on his upcoming North American tour, which includes Canadian stops in Vancouver and Montreal. See the schedule here.