Review Summary: Trevor Powers steps out from behind the veil to complete the "transitional trilogy" of Youth Lagoon. The end results are mixed.
Trevor Powers of Youth Lagoon has never been one to hide his emotions in his songs; yet, in his previous two albums, The Year of Hibernation
and Wondrous Bughouse
, much of Powers’s vocal work and instrumentation had been hidden behind layers upon layers of reverb and distortion. While Hibernation
had a more lo-fi, DIY quality to it, Bughouse
brought punch and playfulness, but the haze still remained. On his newest album, Savage Hills Ballroom
, Powers removes the veil between himself and the listener entirely. While previous albums sounded as if Powers was singing from the bottom of a well while his instruments played on the surface, Ballroom
brings Powers front and center, but it’s not a very welcome change.
The shift in the vocals is accompanied by a shift in instrumentation as well; Powers utilizes strings in “Highway Patrol Stun Gun” and “X-Ray,” horns in the lead single, “The Knower,” and pianos largely replace the typical synthesizers. The dreamy, bedroom pop sound that Youth Lagoon had been known for has become incredibly overdone in recent years, and I think it’s great to see Powers stray away from it. With the expansion of Youth Lagoon’s sound, Powers’s able to flaunt his chops as a composer. In many ways, the leap made on Ballroom
reminds me of Perfume Genius’s 2014 release, Too Bright
. Both albums are much more expansive and polished than anything the artists have done previously.
Admittedly, I’ve never been the biggest fan of Youth Lagoon. I never understood the hype behind his first album. I thought Bughouse
was just okay. And while this album takes many steps in the right direction, there are still a lot of things about it I don’t like. In making Powers’s voice the focal point of many songs, it becomes glaringly obvious that he’s not the most profound or talented lyricist. Tracks like “The Knower” and “Rotten Human” that sound great are ruined by clichés and over trod topics. Powers isn’t the first to be discussing these things, and he’s not adding anything new to the conversation. In addition, I don’t feel like Powers’s voice can carry a song like he’s seemingly trying to do on songs like “Rotten Human” and “Officer Telephone.”
My biggest complaint about the album, though, is how forgettable the second half of the album is. The first half of the album is very enjoyable, while the second half is very bland. The worst offender is the song “Kerry,” which is a touching song Powers wrote about his uncle that died from a drug overdose, but I’ve heard several songs that sound just like it musically.
Overall, this album is mostly enjoyable. It’s might be my favorite Youth Lagoon album yet, but that’s not really saying much. I can’t say I’ll be going back and listening to it in its entirety much, but I’ll certainly be listening to individual tracks here and there.
FAVORITE TRACKS: Officer Telephone, Highway Patrol Stun Gun, No One Can Tell
LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS: Kerry