It feels like a generation ago, but it has been only 22 months since Trevor Powers, the easygoing mastermind of Boise, Idaho, breakout band Youth Lagoon, told me that “a little write-up” from online tastemaker Pitchfork was “like the biggest accomplishment of my life.” That was before he was paid to perform in Tokyo and Amsterdam and Paris and Munich. Before he released two albums on Fat Possum Records. Before he gigged five times for eager fans and press at last month’s South by Southwest festival in Texas — his second year showcasing at the event.
Before random teenage girls wearing too much eye makeup began professing their love on Facebook. Before he made a senior citizen cry at an Ohio festival.
“I’m not even kidding!” Powers says, as if convincing himself. “Probably late 70s, early 80s.” The man told Powers that Youth Lagoon’s music is what he’d been hearing in his mind, unable to express, for the past 70 years.
“He was like, ‘I’ve never had this experience.’ He started tearing up,” Powers says, “and I was like, ‘Holy cow. This is insane.’ ”
Powers likes that word: “insane.” It’s a convenient, inarguably accurate catchall for his blazing ascent from “bedroom indie-pop” act to international music force.
The Powers vocabulary also nods toward “nuts” (a description of what Boise’s four-day Treefort Music Fest would be); “rad” (the idea of performing in May at the Sasquatch Music Festival in Washington state); and “freaking out” (his state of mind when J. Spaceman of British space-rock band Spiritualized attended a Youth Lagoon gig and told him they should do shows together).
Basically, Powers talks like an ordinary 24-year-old. Except that this journey he’s on? It’s anything but ordinary.
Same goes for Youth Lagoon’s new album, “Wondrous Bughouse.” A trippy excursion through Powers’ galactic-pop universe, “Bughouse” is a more complex, ambitious record than his dreamy, low-fi debut, “The Year of Hibernation.” It’s a doozy of a headphones album, even if a reviewer at Pitchfork argued against that label.
“When it was done being mixed . . . I sent it to a few friends, and that was the first thing I told them, was to listen to it on headphones,” Powers says. “Just because there was so much intricacy put into every single element. Everything sounds very isolated in a good way on headphones.”
Everything sounds off-kilter in a good way, too. Powers’s synth melodies are delicate yet filtered through a carnival mirror. His vulnerable, echoing voice creates the illusion that he’s singing from another dimension. It’s not always easy to understand the lyrics behind the canvas of volcanic sonic colors — nor is it always crucial.
This fact hasn’t stopped critics from overanalyzing — perhaps putting 10 times more thought into a lyrical phrase than Powers did.
“Oh, totally!” he says. “Mostly, though, it’s always back to your personal life.”
“Everything gets so blown out of proportion,” he laments.
Remember the story behind the first record? Supposedly inspired by a breakup? It was more like a brief separation after the record was done, he says: “And then somehow it got out that, ‘Oh, it inspired . . .’ — it’s kind of all not true.” He married her in September. They’d dated for over six years.
Somehow, though, Powers still finds himself painted as a kid in his room in some faraway land called Boise.
“I hardly ever read anything,” he says, “because it makes me sick. But sometimes I do, and the whole review is basically on who they think I am as a person, and most of the time it’s like completely different than who I am. And all of a sudden, it’s spun out of control. And next thing I know, I’m reading things about me — there’ll be different links about me on the Internet or whatever — none of it’s true. It’s just crazy. The whole mentality of the Internet is just so twisted.”
This statement might be perceived as ironic coming from a person who used the Internet to get his songs noticed in the first place.
“Yeah! It’s a necessity,” he says. “Especially when you don’t live in one of the go-tos as far as, like, the music world — New York or Chicago, anything like that.”
Youth Lagoon will start touring again in April. More foreign lands, more nameless faces, maybe even more weeping seniors.
If not always wonderful, it certainly must be wondrous.