It was on an overnight camping trip that I first heard of the artist Youth Lagoon. I had been speaking with a friend about music tastes, and somewhere between Local Natives and Jon Foreman, Youth Lagoon came up. I recall thinking “huh, what a strange name” and making a mental note to check out the group on Spotify. Within a few days, I was streaming “The Year of Hibernation” with no expectations and getting my mind blown.
Youth Lagoon is the project of 22 year old Trevor Powers of Boise, Idaho. How do you categorize his music? Hard to say. There definitely are some parallels between Powers and Owl City’s Adam Young, in the sense that both are guys in their early twenties who started out making music at home in relative obscurity and are now on the rise in the national spotlight. Powers’ style isn’t really synthpop though. His project is like the child of Bon Iver and The Postal Service and the nephew of Sleeping at Last. Throw in some washed-out vocals for good measure, too. Confused yet? Well, you will just have to trust me and listen.
I put off writing this review a bit, admittedly because I thought I “hadn’t listened enough,” whatever that means. I suppose I thought it meant that I needed to recall every bit of the record at will in order to write a review that would do it justice. But it wouldn’t. Why? Because maybe, just maybe, the fact that all of it isn’t catchy is the point. True, the occasional melody will stick out (take “Afternoon,” for example) but each song is layered enough to keep you occupied, whether passively listening or say, meticulously trying to put together an album review.
The mood of the record is best summed up in the lyrics to “17.” In the song, Powers muses “When I was seventeen / my mother said to me / ‘Don’t stop imagining / the day you do is the day you die.'” He seems to take this advice quite literally when he went about writing the record. The music itself meanders across many soundscapes. He uses a variety of instruments to employ an organic, lo-fi washed out sound. The unique thing about this style is that it can fit most moods. Pensive, cheery, and brooding are all adjectives that can accurately describe Youth Lagoon’s music. Furthermore, Powers explores melodies and chord progressions that are perhaps a bit nontraditional, yet remain accessible to the masses.
I have few reservations when it comes to this record. Though the vocal style fits the music, it can be easy to miss a lot of what he is saying, which is a shame since Youth Lagoon’s topical content is about as diverse as the music spectrum it covers. Further, while reading about this artist I saw one reviewer note that he might have a hard time topping this record, and I would have to agree. When an artist does something groundbreaking, even a follow-up project that reaches the same level can be anti-climatic, a statement I would have to agree with here. That said, The Year of Hibernation is one of the dark horses of 2011 and Trevor Powers likely has a full career ahead of him.