Youth Lagoon’s ‘Wondrous Bughouse’ Is Music as Travelogue

Trevor Powers isn’t from New York. He’s not from Los Angeles. He’s not from Chicago or Paris or London or Berlin, or any exotic locale that might help explain the bubbling, ghostly harbor sounds of Youth Lagoon, his one-man bedroom raft of a project.

Powers is from Boise, Idaho. Pull up your Google Map on that one, it’s OK. That’s five hours from Robert Redford’s Park City outpost and another five from where an ex-VP hunts quail with a new heart. It’s a city of just over 200,000 that still claims Build to Spill’s Doug Martsch’s as a resident and not much else, despite its own charming history in the annals of ’90s indie culture. So make no mistake: it’s out there. And despite the growing buzz around Youth Lagoon and its 23-year-old mastermind, starting with 2010’s excellent The Year of Hibernation, an entire industry continues to fly over and around these places without much thought. The isolation might be the meme today, but the message is palpable and more than little timely.

Youth Lagoon might play with the signifiers—flange, nursery-rhymed couplets, a dense low-end—sound-tracking more populated cities these days, but it’s that sense of isolation that makes this young artist so compelling. It’s also what makes his sophomore effort Wondrous Bughouse (out this week on Mississippi-based Fat Possum) such a remarkable and necessary listen. Sometimes you just need to step outside the din to remind yourself that anyone who has it all figured out is just fooling themselves anyway. Wondrous Ballroom is the forty-minute respite reminding you that these fears, this life, this humanity are just "mortals on the run" according to Powers’s narrator here.

This is hardly "outsider art" in the Daniel Johnston sense, but rather music made outside the bubble. The sounds of distance refracted. Powers composes with such wide-eyed wonder you can’t help but admire the naive fascination at times. Or scoff at anyone who thinks all roads still lead to Brooklyn for this sort of self-examination. Listening to someone like Powers question his own mortality using the latest in pop production from an outpost in Idaho is both a rare thing in today’s media landscape and a powerful listen. It’s the future. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Thoreau.

Producer Ben H. Allen (Deerhunter, Animal Collective) gives Wondrous Bughouse the sonic timeliness it deserves, but it’s Powers who threads the needle between youthful exhibitionism and honest-to-god "what’s out there?" moments shared by just about anyone waiting for a late night bus. Presumably, you can still see the moon in Boise and that’s the charm of creating in isolation while trying to explain that overwhelming effect to your listener. It’s also what separates Youth Lagoon from just another collection of soupy, bedroom noodling with a digital piano.

Where The Year in Hibernation was a mission statement couched in a collection of delicate, swirling odes, Wondrous Ballroom is another step to finding comfort in those Big Questions while carving out room to breathe. These eleven tracks play out like a long walk and that’s probably where anyone should start. Powers takes your hand, starting with "Through Mind and Back," and keeps walking. "The Bath" is a clear highlight, where prehistoric rumblings are kept warm in the mix like a digital afghan, and by the time lead single "Mute" arrives the landscapes on this hike have been fully surveyed. The simple melody found in the coda comes in human scale, and as lovely as anything a powerhouse like M83 is rocking to the bleachers this summer.

But what’s a long walk if the sun never sets? Powers calls the record an exploration of where the metaphysical meets the spiritual world, a place in pop music where minimalism and hypnotic ambiance can co-exist and maybe answer some of those questions. Issues of life and death sung over waltz time and odd cartoon flourishes pulled straight from the Elephant 6 or Flaming Lips playbook. But don’t buy the close read, especially from critics looking to assign Powers such a lectern. It’s very much the red herring for an album that asks what it can do for your gut, not your head. This is music designed to stop thinking and just cross the street already, an exploration of one young man beamed from far outside the indie rock universe.

"Youth Lagoon is something so personal to me because writing music is how I sort my thoughts,” Powers explains. Taken on those terms, Wondrous Bughouse sees a Millennial creating something only as honest and natural as he knows how. Lucky for us, rarely is self-imposed solitude such a healthy muse and necessary band mate.

Still, the touchstones are mighty familiar. Youth Lagoon isn’t reinventing the wheel, one lapping MBV wave of distorted bliss at a time. Nor will it probably reach the cheap seats at the Barclays Center this summer when they open for The National in the 18,000-seat Brooklyn area. This is music-as-travelogue, music-as-moleskine, and even if you never find yourself in Boise, Powers does a fine job of building and projecting his own fragile world like postcards from a weekend in the woods. This is ultimately flyover music that uses an urban echo to small town effect.

One could argue more than a few of Youth Lagoon’s urban contemporaries could learn more from a year in the sticks than six months in a borough with too much stimulation and one too many plugins. Wondrous Bughouse, like The Year in Hibernation before it, finds a young musician exploring the most interesting and alien thing of all in this digitally overloaded universe: himself.

Photo by Josh Darr.

Youth Lagoon Kicks It Up a Notch With ‘Mute’

Trevor Powers, better known as Youth Lagoon, has been cropping up with some understated, hazy dream-pop for the past couple years, culminating with debut album The Year of Hibernation, which was every bit as pastoral as the name implies. His music has always sounded, in all its bedroom coziness, like the work of one guy. Until now.

“Mute,” the first single from Wondrous Bughouse, due out March 5 from Fat Possum, is a booming, stately march at the outset. Powers’s guitar takes on the aspect of stained glass here—bright and beautifully colored but icy and fragile. It’s all very soothing until just a bit past the one-minute mark, when we’re treated to a My Bloody Valentine-style descent into a slurring, somehow catchy dissonance.

Powers has said that “a lot of this record was influenced by a fear of mortality but embracing it at the same time. Realizing that human life is only great because it is temporary,” and “Mute” has those glorious contradictions in spades. Catch Youth Lagoon on this extensive upcoming tour, which ends at the Barclays Center with The National.

02/25 Spokane, WA – A Club
02/26 Missoula, MT – Badlander

02/27 Bozeman, MT – Filling Station

02/28 Salt Lake City, UT – Kilby Court

03/01 Denver, CO – Larimer Lounge

03/06 New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom
03/13 – 03/16 Austin, TX – SXSW

03/22 Boise, ID – Treefort Music Fest

04/12 Indio, CA – Coachella

04/19 Indio, CA – Coachella
04/21 Phoenix, AZ – Crescent Ballroom

04/25 Dallas, TX – The Loft 

04/26 Houston, TX – Fitzgerald’s 

04/27 New Orleans, LA – One Eyed Jacks 

04/28 Birmingham, AL – The Bottletree 

04/30 Orlando, FL – The Social

05/01 Atlanta, GA – Terminal West 

05/02 Nashville, TN – Mercy Lounge 

05/03 Asheville, NC – The Grey Eagle 

05/04 Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle 

05/07 Northampton, MA – Pearl St. 

05/10 Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer 

05/11 Columbia, MD – Sweet Life Festival 

05/13 Toronto, ON – Great Hall 

05/14 Columbus, OH – A&R Bar 

05/15 Chicago, IL – Metro 

05/16 Madison, WI – Majestic Theater 

05/17 Minneapolis, MN – Fine Line 

05/22 Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom 

05/23 Vancouver, BC – Venue  
05/24 Gorge, WA Sasquatch! Fest

06/05 Brooklyn, NY – Barclays Center   

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Pitchfork Music Festival Finalizes Lineup: Beach House, Wild Flag & More Join the Fun

Today, Pitchfork added the final batch of bands to its 2012 music festival lineup, well ahead of the July 13-15 weekend where the excitement will go down in Chicago’s Union Park: Beach House, Wild Flag, Real Estate, Atlas Sound, Big K.R.I.T., Nicolas Jaar, Cults, Chavez, Ty Segall, Oneohtrix Point Never, Youth Lagoon, Thee Oh Sees, King Krule, Lotus Plaza, Dirty Beaches, Lower Dens, Milk Music, the Psychic Paramount, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Outer Minds, and A Lull. The festival might not ever be as fun as the year when they sold Sparks at the beer tents, but sometimes life forces you to make sacrifices for sanity’s sake. You can look at the final lineup, which is looking pretty healthy, after the click.

Pitchfork, in my opinion, is the best deal in national music festivals. For the cost of a one-way plane ticket, you get to see dozens of relevant, high quality bands at varying points in their life cycle: buzz acts finding their live presence, indie veterans who’ve settled into a comfortable set list, and the random top-shelf name brand gifted with a headlining set for a crowd that’s absolutely reveretial of their presence. And the people watching! The people watching is absolutely superb. Three-day passes are sold out, though you can still purchase individual one-day tickets if that weekend is still looking free on your schedule.  

Friday, July 13:

A$AP Rocky
Willis Earl Beal
Big K.R.I.T.
Clams Casino
Dirty Projectors
Tim Hecker
Lower Dens 
The Olivia Tremor Control
Outer Minds 
Purity Ring

Saturday, July 14:

The Atlas Moth
Atlas Sound 
Danny Brown
Cloud Nothings
Flying Lotus
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Hot Chip
Nicolas Jaar 
Lotus Plaza 
The Psychic Paramount 
Schoolboy Q
Sleigh Bells
Wild Flag 
Youth Lagoon 

Sunday, July 15:

A Lull 
Beach House 
Dirty Beaches 
The Field
King Krule 
Kendrick Lamar
The Men
Milk Music 
Thee Oh Sees 
Oneohtrix Point Never 
Real Estate 
Ty Segall 
Unknown Mortal Orchestra 
Vampire Weekend

Listen to Youth Lagoon Cover John Denver’s ‘Goodbye Again’

Youth Lagoon makes tunes that are generously described as "bedroom pop,"  a term which can be applied to music and not just the open container of Squirt sitting next to your bed. Hey-o! The band is technically one guy named Trevor Powers, and his album The Year of Hibernation is very soothing and intimate without falling into chillwave blandness. They sound like he’s playing from inside your bedroom, hence the genre name.

If the entry point of one album is too much, Powers covered John Denver’s "Goodbye Again" during an apparance on Sirius XMU. His voice is actually real similar to Denver’s — the clearest description I can form is that they both sound like a child goat pleading for its mother’s milk, which is definitely not an obscure image whatsoever, no. You can just hit play and compare for yourself. Powers plays piano instead of guitar, and there’s no heavenly backing on the chorus. But it’s very nice, you know?

Below, you can watch the video for Youth Lagoon’s "Montana."