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Youth Lagoon

Dance Of Despair

Dec 17, 2015 Youth Lagoon Photography by Matt de Jong Bookmark and Share

When Trevor Powers was coming up with the title of Youth Lagoon‘s third album, Savage Hills Ballroom, a vision was stuck in his mind. He imagined an ornate dancehall with elaborate inlay settings and gold trimthe kind of place you might see in old movies or on postcards from the early part of the 20th century. But upon closer inspection, the ballroom would start to reveal its flaws, with cracks in the molding and chips in the paint showing the rot hiding just beneath the façade. Having written the album during a period of intense self-evaluation, he realized the image represented the frailty of humanity in general and of himself in particular.

“And I didn’t like it,” Powers laughs. “For a long time, I’ve hidden behind my routines in the way that I approach my music, just getting comfortable with having my little cozy blankets that I hide behind. With this album, my one agenda is that I would approach it with nothing in between me and the music. Whatever you heard in the music was 100 percent me, and I’ve never done that before.”

Following the death of a close friend, Powers ended the tour for 2013’s Wondrous Bughouse a wounded and broken man. The fears and anxieties that he had struggled with since he was a child began to become unbearable, and a therapist warned him that he needed to confront them and stop relying on his friends and family to help him carry the weight of his struggles. A few months after arriving home, he had fallen into a routine that only frayed his nerves further. Soon, he had the song “Again.”

“It was written from the perspective of getting into these same routines of driving to the same places and doing the same shit every day,” Powers recalls. “That one was interesting to kick things off, because it was a lot of frustration that had built up. I’m the kind of person who, if I’m not touring, I feel like I’m doing something wrong.”

Having recently purchased a Prophet 08 synthesizer, Powers had been spending his non-touring time teaching himself the art of electronic composition, and he soon had a set of songs whose icy textures and skittering beats perfectly matched the searching and desperation in his writing. With a voice that hovers somewhere between a prepubescent boy and a post-menopausal woman, Powers uses “Again” to capture the suffocating monotony of a life spent helplessly going through the motions of working to shopping, from fighting to making up to sitting in front of the computer. That same powerlessness turns up on “Kerry,” the story of Powers’ uncle who spent much of his life on the run from the law, eventually dying of a drug overdose. “Rotten Human” could well serve as the album’s thesis, a sleepy synth ballad about straining to find meaning through years of wasted time, left to push your problems away with alcohol and prescription medications. The effect is an uneasy catharsis, akin to pulling a fresh bandage off a wound you know will never heal.

“It’s meant to be experienced very loud,” Powers says. “Back to the whole ballroom thingI pictured [the album] being played in an empty ballroom by someone sitting down in a chair by themselves, but in a massive ballroom with ginormous speakers. If anyone has the opportunity to do that, I highly recommend it.”

[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar’s November/December Issue, which is still on newsstands. This is its debut online.]


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December 19th 2015

What beautiful music! And such an exceptional voice.