If 2011's The Year of Hibernation was Youth Lagoon's Revolver, then Wondrous Bughouse is his Magical Mystery Tour. When Trevor Powers, the sole sonic proprietor of Youth Lagoon, came onto the scene two years ago with 10 faint-of-heart, echoing chasms of slow-paced blustering tracks, it was difficult to tell which direction he was aiming for. Dream-pop diva? Psychedelic prince? This new album helps answer that question as it ascends to more grandiose territory and fuller production value via Ben H. Allen's sure-footed direction. Hibernation truly sounded like a man with a laptop, but Bughouse fills the room with instrumentations stacked up the wall and pomp and circumstance to spare.
"Through Mind and Back" may immediately seem foreign to listeners as it drones with sporadic noises and wavering blips. But the substantially untraditional opener leads straight into the rapturous "Mute," possibly one of the most traditional pop-rock songs to come from Powers to date. Holding onto his echoing-down-a-hall vocals, Powers blooms on "Mute" in a way that Hibernation would never have predicted. "Attic Door" is the turning point, though – the curve ball that sets the tone for a majority of the album. A crawling, eccentric carnival with clapping castanets and swirling gumdrop organs, Powers leads the listener into a frighteningly whimsical fairytale – like a bad trip. Filled with man-birds, disease, death, demons and sleep disorders, this is often the stuff of dream states but always the matter of nightmares. And that's where Wondrous Bughouse finds itself for most of its 10 tracks: falling down the rabbit hole, lost in magic, euphoria, anxiety and bombastic wishes. "I won't die easily/ That's what they say when I erupt into laughter," Powers sings on "Attic Door" in his often-hyperbolic manner.
It's a fantastical album featuring much more powerful statements than Hibernation. Powers opens himself up to the audience even further, especially on candid tracks such as "Sleep Paralysis," detailing his weakness during the sometimes-horrifying phenomenon. Wondrous Bughouse is a rollercoaster of emotion, continually lulling into a drone and then erupting into a climactic finish. If you were unsure of Powers before, then rest assured, his pacing and sincerity have improved tenfold.
Youth Lagoon plays the Social on April 30. Tickets are $13 if you buy now, and $15 at the door.
★★★★ (out of 5 stars)