By Michael Hamad
10:10 AM EDT, May 1, 2013
w/ Majical Cloudz, May 8, 8 p.m., $15, The Space, 295 Treadwell St., Hamden, manicproductions.org
If you listen to Wondrous Bughouse, the terrific new album by Trevor Powers' Youth Lagoon, there's a sense that, within the swirling, obscured vocals, coloristic effects and overall sonic wash, actual songs are lurking, as though a guy with an acoustic guitar or piano could sing them to a packed coffeehouse without losing any impact. It's easy to imagine Powers engaging a two-step process: writing a song, then wobbling it during the production process.
That's not quite what happened, said Powers, who responded to the Advocate's questions by e-mail. (He's not a fan of phone interviews.) "I don't see production and forming the original ideas as being two separate processes, but really how a song is dressed," he said. "It's one in the same, because how a song is presented is just as important as what that song is. Sound is a search for something that never ends, and sometimes you don't even know what you're looking for."
Youth Lagoon's hypnotic first album, 2010's The Year of Hibernation, was a stunning debut, a headphone-friendly album from a 22-year-old that transcended the limitations of Powers' bedroom, where it was born. He subsequently signed with the Mississippi-based label Fat Possum Records and toured for much of the next year. When it came time to work on a follow-up, Powers found himself in strangely difficult place: adulthood. (He got married a month before going into the studio.) The only way to approach the new record, Powers said, was piece-by-piece, because imagining the whole was too overwhelming.
"There was so much work that went into this writing process along with really being a balancing act with my time," Powers said. "If the end product is going to mean anything at all, writing always requires a sacrifice of some kind, usually being personal time. I get really obsessive about it."
Powers, a Boise, Idaho native, wrote the majority of the new record at night. "I'd force myself to stay up late to get these ideas out since writing during the day is much more difficult for me," he said. "It was this sort of process of getting thoughts out of my system I didn't necessarily even know I had been dwelling on. Like a stream of consciousness view toward a lot of it, and then going back and cleaning up and shaping all the messiness. That's the meticulous part, because sometimes songs can take months to clean up."
For the recording of Bughouse, Powers sought out Ben H. Allen, a producer known for adding low-end heft to Animal Collective (on their breakthrough 2009's Merriweather Post Pavilion) and Gnarls Barkley. "I had the idea of working with Ben because of his engineering background with hip-hop," Powers said. "I wanted to approach percussion in a much different way this time around, and Ben has the best ears out of anyone I know." Allen, Powers said, hears frequencies most people can't hear, and he learned a lot during the collaboration. "I think what I'm constantly learning is how to listen to where songs themselves want to go. Sometimes an idea ends up having a mind of its own that you have to listen to."
Powers brings Youth Lagoon to the newly opened Spaceland Ballroom in Hamden on May 8. And if you notice a healthy preoccupation with mortality on the new songs, it's most likely a by-product of those recent changes in Powers' life: marriage, critical success, touring.
"I think everyone thinks about [death]," Powers said, "but we choose to ignore it because we have to. If we don't then we can't really even go on truly living because we'd be so distracted. I'm always interested in those sort of ideas because it's the human condition. It's the most basic fact on earth. That bled all over this record because that was where my head was during writing. I guess I'm much more inspired musically by the dark because there are so many more emotions there to explore."
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