Review By Courtney Pitman, Photos By Clarissa Villondo
In September 2011 Trevor Powers, some college kid in Boise, released my favorite album of the year under the name Youth Lagoon. The album is The Year of Hibernation and it is so stuffed with swelling lo-fi ponderings that it requires a liberal use of the repeat button to unpack even the top few layers. The songs follow a pattern of ambient dream-pop keyboards and quiet, muffled vocals, but their discerning quality is the ease with which they build from their humble, comfortable intros into a tidal wave of grandeur instrumentation, along the way extracting feelings you didn’t even know were there. The Year of Hibernation was again one of my most played albums of 2012, and I still haven’t tired of it in 2013. After 70+ plays or so, the heights it reaches during its swells still catch me off guard if I’m not paying close attention.
In March 2013 Trevor Powers, an established artist, released Youth Lagoon’s sophomore album, Wondrous Bughouse, and I hated it. If Hibernation is dream pop, Bughouse can only be described as nightmare pop, jarring reverb and psychedelic echoes replacing the coziness of the earlier album.
Which brings us to Youth Lagoon’s 9:30 Club show on Monday night in support of Bughouse, and my extreme excitement/trepidation for the evening. While Youth Lagoon’s albums are an exercise in dichotomy, Powers’ live show stitches the two sides together in a manner that I didn’t think possible, illustrating parallels that were there all along. Flanked by a guitarist and bassist, he kicked off with two Bughouse tracks entrenched deep in the alienating swirls of electronic noises and surprisingly forceful vocals. The three then transitioned into an uncomfortably screechy intro before rewarding the audience with the first few recognizable notes of Hibernation highlight “Canons.”
I hated the intro while it was happening. I was terrified this show would not only be a letdown, but a painful hour at that. But (like so many others) Powers is wiser than me, because it worked. It really did. By the time the reverb settles the audience is that much more appreciative—and they were definitely appreciative—of the lush comfort of an old friend; I couldn’t have controlled the dumb grin on my face if I’d wanted to.
Youth Lagoon continued to blend the distinctive aspects of both albums throughout the rest of the set, lengthening orchestral interludes and obscuring some of the cleaner tunes. The set list was extremely effective, swelling from the psych-heavy beginning to Hibernation peaks before receding back again. The strongest stretch of the evening began midway through with Bughouse single “Dropla,” played true to the album until a fake out ending turned into an extended 4+ minute instrumental outro, beginning with keyboard before steadily swelling into a guitar-heavy crescendo.
The move is classic Year of Hibernation and led perfectly into Hibernation semi-sleeper “July,” the definitive pinnacle of the evening. With a quiet keyboard-driven intro (perhaps in an altered, scuzzier key?), an extended ten-second pause before letting the beat kick in, and an instrumental outro that went on forever yet still wasn’t long enough, “July” unearthed feelings I still didn’t know were there.
Other high points of the night included “Mute,” the 9:30 sound system, two-handed reverse keyboard playing, an enthusiastic crowd, and a magnificently awkward lack of stage presence.
Because I’m a wonk for quantitative explanations and infographics, I detailed Youth Lagoon’s set in the entirely unscientific graph below. It shows how skewed each song was towards the sound of either Year of Hibernation or Wondrous Bughouse over the progression of the set. You’re welcome/I’m sorry.
[Note that this is not a ranking of the songs.]
In September 2011 Trevor Powers, some college kid in Boise, released my favorite album of the year under the name Youth Lagoon. In March 2013 Trevor Powers, an established artist, released Youth Lagoon’s sophomore album—and I hated it. I still kind of hate it. But in September 2013 I saw Youth Lagoon at 9:30 Club, and I left with a deep appreciation for Powers’ artistry and vision, and a renewed excitement for what he’ll bring next.