Review Summary: Music for daydreamers. The ones paying attention, anyway.
Trevor Powers may be a year older than me, but already I can’t help thinking of him as a little brother. The 22-year-old’s solo project Youth Lagoon manages to burrow that bloodline-deep. This isn't just due to his fragile, slightly effeminate voice; full of quiet wonder, yet prone to passionate eruptions. Nor is it just the endearing playfulness of his melodies. It’s not simply the daydream haze of the reverb, the big-small magic of the song structure, the charmingly reverential apron-tugging of the influences, the anxiety which flows quietly beneath the surface, or the occasional flaw from an unconscious stubbornness. Of course, it is all these things. But it's something else, something grander which really brings about my big brother instinct.
The Year of Hibernation
nuzzles into this nook of subconscious familiarity and makes its bed there. Lightly clouded by reverb after being recorded in a four-car garage, Powers' music sounds like the symphonies floating unconscious in the heads of daydreaming school kids. From the simple, mirthful melody which introduces Powers’ delicate voice on ‘Afternoon’ to the uplifting woah-ohs which see out the album, Youth Lagoon’s debut consistently delivers on the suggestion of its appellation: youth. The aforementioned ‘Afternoon’ positively beams optimism and irony-free cheerfulness, from the infectious, whistled melody to the late-coming drums, yet it does so in a way which escapes the bubblegum effect. The Year of Hibernation
doesn’t lose its flavour and end up becoming sickly or an effort to sit through. It’s too mature, too charming an album for that. It just happens to also have been created by a guy who seems to possess the vision few of us have left: that of a kid.
It helps too that not every track is written in this buoyant vein. The one-two centrepiece of ‘July’ and ‘Montana’ not only evidence that Powers is capable of writing songs which captivate and delight in equal, slow-burning measure, but also that he can manage beautifully the representation of more troubling youthful emotions. The paralyzing anxieties of growing up are given their aural interpretation in the fragility of the record, and Powers is more anxious than most; there are sections where it seems as if the album might smash into tiny pieces at any moment. It's heartbreaking. But when Powers confronts and overpowers the "sickness in [his] head" with this brave optimism, with this strength he gathers from good memories, that's when the album truly flourishes. ‘Montana’ is especially moving as Powers croons in a slightly more morose tone over understated piano as the song's elements build. The bass pedal arrives to echo the piano, Powers' delivery gathers power amongst the handclaps and guitars, and yet, like ‘July’, the song's crescendo doesn’t feel cluttered, forced or trite. It feels like a genuine outpour. Because that's what it is.
At only eight tracks, however, the album is too short. In a way, that's a good thing. An unquenched thirst leave us desperate for more. But it would have been great to see more of Youth Lagoon in its youth, before the project blows up and one half of the name automatically becomes less significant. The other concern is one of repetition. The songs do suffer slightly from a lack of diversity, in song structure and in instrumentation. The drum machine beats most noticeably, by the end of the album, tend to drag. Their use varies slightly but not enough to make their repetition seem like an over-reliance. Of course, these are small issues that are to be expected from a debut, but, for some reason, I can’t help myself being quietly determined to make sure Youth Lagoon reaches its full potential.
I think that could be this grander thing. It's a thing I see in my actual little brother, and it's a thing I can see too in Youth Lagoon. Potential, and the desire and (I think) work-ethic to realize that potential. But it's not only the potential to genuinely be something original, something amazing which separates Youth Lagoon from other bedroom acts. Alone, it doesn't. It's when that lovely warmth, that enchanting optimism of the record is able to stimulate in its listener a craving to see Powers succeed that a brotherly depth is added to The Year of Hibernation
; a depth which, really, I haven’t come across before. It’s something all Youth Lagoon's own.