They say that the purpose of art is to elicit an emotional response from the audience. But it also rings true for the artist creating the art itself. This is generally referred to as catharsis and in many cases this fact is the canon toward the actual act of creation itself. For 22 year old Idaho native, Trevor Powers aka Youth Lagoon, that catharsis comes in the form of powerful nostalgia. Powers’ debut album, The Year of Hibernation (an oblique reference to Powers’ year of anxiety and self-imposed isolation whilst writing the record) is the emotional equivalent of an exorcism after a cherished, four year relationship went bust. The actual recording works on a few levels but the question tonight is, how does deeply personalised, lo-fi bedroom pop translate to the stage in front of a couple hundred expectant voyeurs? Pretty damn well it would seem.
As on the album, each song begins in the form of a hushed lament and casually builds into a euphoric symphony of canned beats, guitar flourishes and synth pads. However, the real surprise is Powers’ naive vocals as they calibrate to each change dynamics. On record they’re awash in ambience, but tonight they’re relatively dry and the result is a more intimate and nuanced translation of each song’s narrative. The fact that vocal harmonies aren’t necessarily missed is evidence of Powers’ vulnerable tenor and its ability to coax us into his world without compromise.
Tonight, Powers and his touring guitarist, Logan Hyde, play through all of ‘The Year in Hibernation‘, albeit in non-album sequence, plus one B-side. But considering the album only consists of eight songs and has a running time of just 35 minutes, it makes for quite a short set that left a few unsuspecting audience members wondering if there was more to come. But I knew better. Not because I’d done the background research but because when the single encore ‘July‘ was performed I saw that the aforementioned catharsis had been played out for the night. Hell, the song’s theme of colourful explosions, letting go of someone you love and wondering what could’ve been would burn anyone out.
But afterwards it wasn’t that final tune that stuck with me. No, it was the point at which Powers sang ‘Don’t stop imagining for the day that you do is the day that you die’. If there’s any truth behind those words Powers will grow to be an old man and whilst death may come for him eventually he probably won’t go quietly. To the benefit of us all I might add.
Youth Lagoon – July from Tyler T Williams on Vimeo.