This Youth Lagoon article was written by Daniel Kirby, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Sam Forsdick
In the lead-up to his 2011 debut ‘The Year of Hibernation,’ Trevor Powers (who goes under the pseudonym of Youth Lagoon) quit the counselling he was receiving for psychological dysphoria and put his energy into his music instead. The album served a cathartic purpose; by exploring the dark recesses of his mind through his music Powers was able to better come to terms with his illness. Its ambient minimalist style with haunting melodies suited the subject matter well but was also balanced out by a few uplifting moments. The music was like a bittersweet cocoon which Powers crafted around his fragile vocals, enabling him to better express his feelings.
The direction of 2013’s follow-up ‘Wondrous Bughouse’ caught many off guard. In the lead-up to his second album Powers had become interested in metaphysics and aimed to channel what he had learned into his music. The result was a neo-psychedelic pop kaleidoscope bursting with colour and detail. It was the opposite of his debut, but despite the change in his overall sound his vocals still retained an element of fragility underneath all the reverb. The songs were longer, more expansive and playful, but it left some who had enjoyed his first album a little disappointed.
On ‘Savage Hills Ballroom’ Powers takes his music in another new direction. His inspirations here are people’s efforts to hide their flaws and the barriers they put up in the process, focussing on the claustrophobia of suburban living and acts of dissimulation on social media. The sound he’s gone for this time is a mix of chamber and art pop, with elements of dream pop and electronic experimentation also introduced. The overall production is more radio friendly, with the vocals taking a step forward from behind the reverb. However the price of a cleaner sound is that it exposes the flaws in his voice. To record the album Powers went to Bristol, England to work with Ali Chant, producer of Perfume Genius’ more open and polished third album, ‘Too Bright.’
‘Officer Telephone’ opens the album with a surprise burst of breakbeat towards the end of the song, signalling the more experimental tone. ‘Highway Patrol Stun Gun’ is a more straightforward, melancholic pop piece built around a repetitive piano refrain and cello to fill out the melody. ‘The Knower’ begins intimately but gradually moves towards a climactic finish as electronic effects, horns and crashing cymbals are added to the mix. ‘Doll’s Estate’ is the first of two instrumentals and is a beautiful piano-led piece where feedback slowly creeps into view, momentarily taking over towards the end. After a fairly solid first half, ‘Rotten Human’ begins a more unmemorable second. On these tracks Youth Lagoon’s weak vocals are more prominent, particularly during its opening moments. If there’s one highlight of this part of the album it’s probably ‘Again’ with its contrast of calm and more industrial sounds which closes with a slow techno beat and echoing sax.
‘Savage Hills Ballroom’ is a more poppy but also experimental album that will likely divide some fans of his earlier works. You have to admire Powers’ willingness to push his music in new directions, even if it doesn’t quite pay off this time around, with the album largely being let down by its weaker second half. Despite this, ‘Savage Hills Ballroom’ demonstrates Power’s unpredictability and it will certainly be interesting to see which direction he chooses to take Youth Lagoon in next.