In 2010, Trevor Powers released his debut record The Year of Hibernation under the name Youth Lagoon. A poignant and intimate album, its power was in its subtlety and restraint. In eight beautifully crafted melodies, Powers used ambient synth, drum loops and his delicate voice to create a warm unique sound, akin to The XX, only more vulnerable. Wondrous Bughouse is a step up in complexity for Powers but the relative accessibility he achieved in his debut is lost in the overthought noise of the sophomore effort.
The album’s first moments are familiar to Power’s debut – a repetitive chord progression shrouded in noise and dissonance. ‘Through Mind and Back’ is both a nod to the past and an interlude to the frustration that follows. The Year of Hibernation delivered eight gorgeously laid-back and morose melodies, none of which would likely get more than a rhythmic sway from an audience. So it was with surprise and excitement that I received Powers’ most alt-rock track to date, the ironically named ‘Mute’. The largely instrumental and almost anthemic track sees Powers make use of a drum kit and guitar rather than relying solely on synthetic production. Complete with aeroplane effects, the track plays like a Pink Floyd meets Sunset Rubdown mix-up. It’s celebratory and uplifting – a revelation for Powers’ typical musical darkness. The only downfall is this newfound direction doesn’t last.
In too many tracks, accessible melodies are hidden deep beneath an aura of distorted additives, removing the air of vulnerability and intimacy that made the debut. It’s as though his tracks have rusted over, tainting the shine beneath. His lyrics are inaudible, completely invisible in the mist of reverb and noise. Beautifully crafted tracks ‘The Bath’ and ‘Pelican Man’ are a struggle to digest, almost dreary in their broken record design. It’s frustrating because a beautiful song is hiding so close to the surface, lost and overdone - if only one could scrape away the rust.
Several songs use awkward circus style instrumentation, a musical choice I found confusing and at times quite disconcerting. Intentional or otherwise, the tinkly, sickly sweet style may suit thematically but to listen to, I found it difficult. ‘Attic Doctor’ is a jack-in-the-box style jangle that starkly disrupts the mood created by the powerful track ‘Mute’ and ‘Sleep Paralysis’ creates a similar discord later in the record.
While many critics are relishing in Powers’ new direction, I didn’t find what I was looking for in Wondrous Bughouse . Overcomplicated and hard to follow, it would have benefited greatly from a reduction in effects. Or maybe I just missed the point.