Two years ago, Boise resident Trevor Powers won the musical lottery. And this month, he's betting it all on black.
After a handful of local gigs, his solo recording project, Youth Lagoon, got picked up by Oxford, Miss.-based Fat Possum Records.
Powers and guitarist Logan Hyde hit the road as critics showered love on the band's debut, The Year of Hibernation.
"Lovely, sparse songs that capture the feeling of being confined and alone," wrote NPR's Michael Katzif.
"Hibernation is a record for pulling up the covers and dreaming and then venturing out to the town to see the strange and magical world of encroaching adulthood," wrote Pitchfork's Mark Richardson.
Fans reacted just as strongly, gushing over The Year of Hibernation and turning Powers into an indie rock totem.
And therein lies the gamble: Wondrous Bughouse, the sophomore disc that Powers and company released March 5, couldn't be more different.
Hibernation's earnest pop ballads are replaced with lengthy tracks of experimental noise. The toy-sounding electronic drums that reinforced the previous album's sense of childlike wonder are replaced with a full backing band. And, whereas Youth Lagoon's debut was intimate, delicate and fragile, Wondrous Bughouse is like a synthesizer product demo recording.
In many ways, Powers tossed out everything that people swooned over on The Year of Hibernation to do something completely different. Though early critics' responses have been generally positive, taking an artistic risk is something that critics have always embraced more than fans.
Powers isn't at all worried, though.
"If I had created something I wasn't excited about, it would have failed instantly," he told Boise Weekly. "You just have to take a leap of faith creating something that you truly believe in. Then if it doesn't come through, someone may not be happy, but at least you will be happy."
More than just happy, Powers is feeling downright wondrous.
"I really just wanted to create some kind of place, like sonically, just experiment to create some kind of place I could see myself living. Some kind of world that I could get lost in and that I feel other people could get lost in," he said.
Powers said that many of the songs began as stream of consciousness--a way to purge his system of whatever was clogging it.
"When you do things that way, it's always messy," Powers said. "So then you go back and clean it up."
The key to cleaning it up was Ben Allen, who has worked with bands like Animal Collective, Deerhunter and Washed Out, and with whom Powers recorded Wondrous Bughouse in Georgia. Powers said he spent many evenings detailing his ideas for the album to Allen on the phone before setting foot in the studio or bringing in the session players who played the album's backing tracks.
Another way Wondrous Bughouse departs from The Year of Hibernation is with a resurgence of some of the religious themes that were a staple of Powers' early work.
"The devil tries to cloud my mind," he sings on "Mute."
Powers has been cagey about his faith since breaking through in the secular music world and has refused interview requests from BW regarding his involvement in the local Christian music scene. His press agent even emailed BW to say we weren't allowed to mention the names of Powers' former bands, My Paper Camera or Your Friend, Peter Giles.
But it isn't just because Powers--like so many others--would prefer to leave the ghosts of high school behind him; it's also because he doesn't want those religious references to be misconstrued or taken too literally.
"I'm a very spiritual person," Powers said. "But I feel like religion, as a whole, corrupts so much stuff. Everyone already has their opinions on what people should be and shouldn't be. I still have a close relationship with God, but it's not within certain boundaries. It's just endless love. It always plays a role in whatever I create."
To bring the wonder of his new album onstage, Powers hired bassist Jake Warnock from Boise band Atomic Mama and New Orleans drummer Eric Rogers as a rhythm section, and added a multimedia light show to match the newfound psychedelia of his tunes.
The band rehearsed six hours a day for two months before debuting its new material with a secret show at Neurolux Feb. 25, then performing a small string of dates leading up to SXSW and Treefort.
Though Youth Lagoon's new sound is bone-rattlingly massive live--and the light show finally makes Youth Lagoon's onstage presence match its hype--it's still a radical shift for the soft-spoken, moony kid who used to play keyboard for change on Eighth Street.
After playing a headlining spot at the Treefort Main Stage Sunday, March 24, Youth Lagoon will hit the road hard to push Wondrous Bughouse.
"April is when the tour really kicks off," Powers said. "And then it will be really constant for a long time."
But what if fans don't respond to it?
"If you judge success by who buys your record, then most people will be sorely disappointed," Powers said. "As long as I made the record I wanted to make, I'd be happy. And I feel like I did."