Smile Politely

An unforeseen adventure with Youth Lagoon

Youth Lagoon could be considered one of the better success stories within indie-pop music today. The success and growth of the bedroom-crafted tunes and melodies were perhaps the travleing path of Trevor Powers’ project all along, even if no one else knew the plan was to do just that. Typically the expasion of a record starts with a project throwing everything they have into a debut record, and the second one falls off and is the dreadful “sophomore slump” in music. It can be a dagger, unfortunately. Luckily, the growth of the project has turned the table on that notion, and Youth Lagoon is only picking up steam. Sure, “Cannons” and “Afternoon” are about as infectous as can be, but everything made more sense in 2013 with Powers’ project.

I wasn’t planning on writing anything for the section throughout the week, but a last minute change in schedule allowed a bit of time to think about what Youth Lagoon brings to the table this weekend. As a casual listener (well, I use that term losely), having listened to Youth Lagoon for a few years now, and being thoroughly impressed with Wondrous Bughouse, out earlier this year, I thought I would throw down and express the project in the way that I understood.

By the looks of the progression of the albums from the start of his debut to the end of his second, the success seemed unlikely at first. We could have all been fooled by where the project as came from and where it is now: Performing with the likes of Major Lazer, Dessa, Cory Chisel and the rest at this year’s Pygmalion Music Festival on Saturday. It happened to work out that way, and the results are pretty infectious. Complexity isn’t always the name of the game in indie-pop, and there are contemporary examples of simplistic acts being rewarded for their ability to make it work.

Sometimes bands hit it out of the park their first go-round and don’t seem to completely recover. Interpol, The Strokes, Bloc Party, to name a few. Stellar debuts that don’t ever completely pick up the second time around. Sure, their second albums were all pretty good, but nothing that could compete with the debut. On the other hand, some artists do continue to improve past their first records. Just looking at the Pygmalion lineup, Kurt Vile is one of those artists. Continually refining and improving his sound across his catalog. Bon Iver and Deerhunter could be argued as another examples. The pattern isn’t predicatable, but many bands throw down on their first record and don’t quite pick it up on the second. It’s just how things work.

However, I digress. Youth Lagoon is the point of the article, and Powers has had a similar improvement upon the debut, which isn’t rare, but not always the way things go. A “sophomore slump”? Not a chance.

Wondrous Bughouse

The simplicity of The Year of Hibernation leads to an expansion of the idea, and adds a sense of finesse and attention to detail within his follow up record, Wondrous Bughouse. Even if you wanted to judge the sound of the music by the comparison of the cover art for each album, you could probably get a sense of what is happening here with Youth Lagoon. 

Hibernation features a faded out landscape shot of the side of a mountain, with just a flash of a rainbow in the corner—almost getting away with the image of being a faded photograph—but instead is spoiled by the infused color scheme with the rainbow. No worries, though—everything starts to grow in due time—which is the album art of Bughouse, which features an explosion of colors that could have been drawn by someone tripping on acid. It’s certainly reflective of the soundscape that Powers has painted in the mind of the listener—graphic yet fluid, intimate yet elusive, powerful yet delicate.

Youth Lagoon: “Mute”

[[mp3 youth_lagoon_mute]]

The core of the new record comes in the depths of the mid-section, highlighted by tracks like “Pelican Man” and “Dropla”, but even after you’re that far into the record, you already know what you’ve gotten yourself into. The splashes of beauty start as early as “Mute”, which is a mammoth of a track to submerse yourself into the direction the record is looking to travel.

The expansion of the record goes from a warm and cozy Hibernation (regardless if a pun was the intention of that portion of the sentence), to an explosion of bedroom-pop with Bughouse. The same idea is there all along: The growth of the sound on the listener into a pleasantly surprising vibrance of the record.

Certainly, my words here can only describe the music, while you, as the reader, has to experience it for yourself. The take on the music has these aformentioned dimensions, and the textures created by Youth Lagoon can be described in many different ways according to the person listening. The delicacies of the music Trevor Powers is creating isn’t bound necessarily by indie-rock or bedroom-pop, but is carried by imagination and youthful tendencies. All the while, the uplifting soundscapes resonate much further and maintain a youthful spring to it.

The hook in “Dropla” as a repetition can do the trick:

“You’ll never die / You’ll never die / You’ll never die / You’ll never die.”

Even simplistic lyrics lead to such a Neverland-esque feeling, no? It appears Youth Lagoon isn’t such a bad name to describe everything after all.


Catch Youth Lagoon’s set Saturday night at Pygmalion Music Festival at the Highdive Outdoor Annex. Grab your tickets, as Youth Lagoon is performing alongside Major Lazer, Cory Chisel & the Wandering Sons, Dessa, Caveman, Bleached and many more.

Executive Editor

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