There is a certain amount of choice associated with art. Before the beginning of the Iliad, Agamemnon was forced to choose between sacrificing his own daughter and waging war with the Trojans. Even Neo in the Matrix is given the option of waltzing right out of the film from its onset. Of course with choice comes consequence and consequences unfortunately for characters are what drive plots. Artists make choices too, and Trevor Powers, the man behind Youth Lagoon has made an interesting one in making Wondrous Bughouse. There are very few artists that would shirk off such early success as Powers had with The Year of Hibernation, turn around and make an album like Wondrous Bughouse. The only real modern bands that come to mind are The Horrors with Primary Colours and Wavves with King of the Beach. Regardless, Powers climbs out of his Hear of Hibernation cocoon and emerges as a Wondrous Bughouse butterfly. And believe me when I say wondrous is really the only word I can think to describe it, in the sense that the record is unique, unusual, and at times strikingly beautiful. And unusual to say the least. In a world in which it is far easier to just compare one work to another, I am at a loss for things to compare it too. But I do have the first record, so I think I’ll manage. Here we go.
The first question when thinking about Wondrous Bughouse revolves around its tone; simply put “what happened to the sheltered kid that made the first record?” Is he gone, replaced by some more ambitious dude? No, but it may appear that way on first listen and I wouldn’t necessary hold someone in poor judgment for thinking so. Instead he is hidden throughout the record, perhaps even more sheltered than before. There are moments on Bughouse where the songs are very much in the same voice as the first record, track four, The Bath for example. Still, Powers doesn’t make it easy. You have got to look for him making the record a proverbial Where’s Waldo for the 2013 music nerd crowd. And while the record still features paranoid lonely lyrics, they are far less stark than they were on Hibernation. The previously mentioned The Bath for instance is downright hazy to the point where the lyrics are just unintelligible if you aren’t listening closely enough. So in this way Wondrous Bughouse is a bit of a step back.
On the other hand there are points on Bughouse where Powers finds totally new voices, like on Attic Doctor and Pelican man. There are even points where I would call the music downright triumphant, and while Year of Hibernation certainly had its little victory moments in terms of the character’s narrative, nothing quite comes close to the feelings evoked on Bughouse. No matter how you look at the music it would be hard to deny that Bughouse is far more ambitious than Hibernation. Even if just looking at the length, Bughouse is a whole twenty minutes longer. Do all of its elements work? No not really, but most of them do, and some of them really shine.
The sound of Bughouse is pretty different too, abandoning the crystal clear electronic tones and the lo-fi production for wobbly and at times off key ones with a very up front production style, think Race for the Prize. Actually, the Flaming Lips comparison is not all that far off for the record on the whole. It has many strange elements to it, but the melodies are strong enough that Powers can get away with that sort of thing. At the same time though the electronics can be overwhelming, or there will be elements added in that feel unnecessary, but one could argue that these fit in with the nervously shy persona Powers employs, making the over the top electronics a sort of security blanket. Regardless, for the most part all of the songs have something to contribute to the album, and it makes for a good listen.
Then there is the matter of Pelican Man, which, while it is a good song, is far too I Am the Walrus for my tastes. Is the track supposed to be Beatles homage? I don’t know, but listen to Pelican Man and tell me that it doesn’t sound like Magical Mystery Tour era Beatles (and no, the beginning doesn’t sound Beatles-y listen to the whole thing you dingus). Of course, we still live in an age where being compared to the Beatles is a good thing, and between that and the Flaming Lips comparison Bughouse makes itself out to be one very well thought out record. There is even a Pitchfork article floating about that likens the thing to the undeniably great Perfect From Now On by Built to Spill. You can imagine then that with such comparisons we expect great things from Powers in the future. Is he there yet? Is Wondrous Bughouse his White Album, his Soft Bulletin? Probably not, but it comes damn close and if that isn’t an endorsement than I don’t know what is.
So to bring this one full circle (woohoo!), I’ll be left with a choice when I go to listen to Youth Lagoon next time. Will I go for A Year of Hibernation or for Wondrous Bughouse, the most pressing conundrum since Rebecca Black couldn’t decide which seat to take. What it really comes down to is whether or not I’m feeling lonely when the time comes, but what can you do? Wondrous Bughouse is a good record, and as different as it is (even more so than 2 Chainz), it’s worth listening to, so go do that. Youth Lagoon had a very best new artist vibe going for it back in 2011, and Bughouse lives up to the well garnished hype of yesteryear, what more can you ask for?