Album Review: Youth Lagoon - The Year of Hibernation

With The Year of Hibernation, Trevor Powers establishes Youth Lagoon as an innovative new voice in dream pop.

A- | 9.27.11 | Fat Possum | Stream | MP3 | Vinyl | CD

Youth Lagoon - "Cannons" (mp3)

Trevor Powers, the Boise-based multi-instrumentalist who dream pop-ifies his diary entries into songs as Youth Lagoon, is twenty-two years old. His age is only relevant because his grasp of melody is far beyond his years––he writes songs as timeless and effortless as though they had always existed––but his music simultaneously bears a refreshing, electrifying newness. Powers’ first record as Youth Lagoon is called The Year of Hibernation, which is on one hand rather erroneous a title for such a considered body of work and on the other a perfect match for his bright, nostalgic musical dreamscapes, somewhere at crossroads of lo-fi and chillwave, all fuzzy guitar riffs intertwined with electronic percussion and synth arpeggios. 

The product is a sound as intimate as it is expansive, transcendent of Powers’ bedroom studio but never quite forgetting its humble beginnings. Powers’ singing is heavily processed and buried in enough distorted haze that it sounds like he’s calling to you from the other end of the tunnel, but his voice is so tender and fragile (think the Antlers’ Peter Silberman’s heart wrenching delivery crossed with the eerie, raw sweetness of Deerhunter’s Lockett Pundt on “Agoraphobia”) that every word is loaded with a confessional quality, a soft secret, a disarming honesty. His instrumentals are complex and varied; soft piano notes seem to bloom into harsher, driving guitar chords you could easily cut out of Youth Lagoon and into the repertoire of punk-influenced lo-fi bands like Cloud Nothings.

Vocals and music mélange to create a dreamy, sun-blinded nostalgia – these are songs with titles like “17,” “Afternoon,” “Daydream,” songs about times and places and memories, about things that are fleeting. Songs like “Cannons” and “Montana” have a kind of hallucinatory buildup into a huge, driving melody, like watching something explode in slow motion. They are songs that feel like Powers wrote them so he could remember those fleeting things, or maybe so that he wouldn’t have to remember them anymore. Everything has enough of a catchy toe-tapping earworm on liquid guitar or bright synth bells that you’ll have to remember it instead. We just wish there were more tracks to earworm their way into our heads – the record’s eight songs are hardly enough space for Powers to showcase his talent and versatility. It’s not that the tracks sound too similar – they’re part of a unified vision, but don’t seem like carbon copies – it’s that they’ll leave you wanting to hear what else Powers can do.

With The Year of Hibernation, Powers establishes Youth Lagoon as an innovative new voice in dream pop. His ability to directly tap his emotion and nostalgia into unique, considered, and beautiful music that’s at once sublimely cathartic, intimately confessional, and effortlessly catchy is truly stunning.

Youth Lagoon - The Year of Hibernation