Until now, I’ve associated Youth Lagoon with time.
One of the first things I learned about Trevor Powers was that he was young — 22 when I started listening to him in September of 2011. There was also his debut album’s title — The Year of Hibernation. And then there was the fact that, despite his youngness (sorry, I can’t type “youth” and let you all think I’m the kind of person who would make that pun), it was clear that Powers’ songs looked backward in time, with nostalgic glances toward “fireworks on the 4th of July” and his ’96 Buick. In fact, “nostalgia” became something of a buzzword for the album. A sticky descriptor. A consensus adjective. Here was this 22-year-old pining for the past, while so many of us sit around pining for our early 20′s. (The idea certainly drew me in.)
I don’t mean to suggest that this analysis wasn’t/isn’t apt. Powers himself has said that the name of his project is based on feelings of nostalgia. But I wonder if his years, or relative lack of them, caused this one quality to loom overly large in people’s minds. There was more to The Year of Hibernation than longing for the past. There were brilliant dynamic relationships… memorable melodies… uplifting builds… Besides, nostalgia, by nature, isn’t totally positive. It’s unavoidable — enjoyable on some levels — but it’s also passive. It’s ineffectual. You can’t travel back in time, and there’s nothing sadder than people who are incapable of coming to terms with that reality.
So I was lucky enough to catch Youth Lagoon on Saturday, March 24, at Rock and Roll Hotel in Washington, D.C., along with my friend Travis (you might remember him as the pioneer of the Gaga Challenge) and our music-loving wifeys. The following Friday, our better halves proved that the “better” is short for “better judgement,” as both of our spouses decided to rest up in Richmond in preparation for the Monument 10K, while Travis and I espoused certain sleep deprivation and inflated race times by driving west to Charlottesville with my buddy Josh to catch Reptar at the Southern. Both shows were great, and there was something especially cool about seeing one up in Travis’ neck of the woods and one closer to Richmond inside of a week (OK, so Charlottesville isn’t exactly my neck of the woods, but ever since the Jefferson started stealing a sizable percentage of the good central VA shows, it’s starting to feel that way… but I digress). I thought a fun way to report back on this mini concert series would be for Travis and me to do some yearbook-style superlatives, so let’s dive right in…
You know what’s fun? Getting a sneak preview of something. There’s nothing like mixing exclusivity with instant gratification. Simply deee-vine. In just a second, I’m going to pass along a not-so-sneaky trick for getting your grubby paws on new tunes before they’re released, one that doesn’t involve going around the artist’s back and finding an involuntarily leaked copy.
Here’s the totally above-board trick… if it’s feasible, go see the band whose album you’re salivating over. Not only will you probably hear how the new material sounds live, you may even walk away with the album in hand. This happened late last year at the RVA Music Festival, when the Trillions were selling advance copies of their new album (which is fantastic), and it happened again his past Saturday night when I saw Dana Buoy open for Youth Lagoon at the Rock and Roll Hotel in Washington D.C. During his set, Buoy proprietor Dana Janssen, who is also the percussionist for a group called Akron/Family, announced that even though his debut solo album Summer Bodies isn’t out yet (it won’t be until May 8), advance copies were available for purchase at the merch table.
So this past Friday night, I spun at a super exclusive club. So exclusive that only two people were allowed in. I bet you’re dying to know which club it was, right? OK, OK, I’ll tell you, but you can’t tell ANYBODY. It was… my living room. That’s right, the two people in attendance were me and Mrs. You Hear That, who was sleeping peacefully on the couch the entire time. Sounds bumpin’, huh? Awww yeah! Because my set was so underground, I wanted to share some (11, to be exact) of the tunes we — OK, I — listened to while we — OK, I — watched college basketball. If you want to consider this a basketball playlist, go right ahead. Just know that it has nothing to do with basketball and would probably ruin even the most well-intentioned Final Four watch party. Just for fun, in spite of my sub-par photography skills (Glare? What glare?), I snapped pictures of all the records I played. What can I say? I’m a sucker for album art. Hope you enjoy!
Aren’t top 10 music lists funny? They’re arbitrary, for one thing. Unless you’re quantitatively ranking performances (American Idol and X-Factor, I’m not going to call on you so please put your hands down), the order of your top 10 is usually based on gut feelings and random associations. Plus, they’re a dime a dozen — any yahoo, including this one, that listened to at least 10 albums in a calendar year can make one. Yet for some reason, people love to create them and debate them… and then debate them some more. And as annoying as it is to see people arguing about top 10 lists on the internet, therein lies their beauty. There may be no clearer testament to the fact that every human being experiences music differently, and that’s a good thing. Lists like these are a great way to discover bands that other people are crazy about that you might not even know existed. And someone’s conviction about an album you dismissed out of hand may finally convince you to give it a shot. I hope this list does one of those things for you, and if not, feel free join the ranks of these people and lash out about what’s ranked too high or how Bon Iver sucks.
[Cue Most Interesting Man in the World music] I don’t always listen to math-rocky type stuff. But when I do… I listen to Battles. Their previous album Mirrored drew me in, even though proggy math rock isn’t really my thang, and Gloss Drop picked up right where its predecessor left off. Given that they lost a key band member in between that album and this one, I was impressed right away by how the group’s sense of intensity and adventure had endured, and had maybe even grown. “Ice Cream” became one of my favorite upbeat songs of the year, and I still can’t get enough of it. Listen below, read more about Battles here, here and here, and buy here.
Trevor Powers seemed to come out of nowhere, garnering lots of attention all at once thanks to a May Pitchfork article that linked to a few self-released songs, including the wonderfully haunting “July.” But his instant notoriety was no fluke, as his debut full-length The Year of Hibernation illustrates so convincingly. Powers is just 22, but his old-soul dexterity with themes of nostalgia and the fragility of youth is remarkable, and his album leaves you with the odd sensation that he’s older than he really is. Kind of like how it’s easy to forget that the basketball players you bet on each March in your office pool are really 18-year-olds who only recently learned how to drive. Now if only they’d learn how to hit their goddamn free throws. Listen to “July” below, read more here and here, and buy here.
w h o k i l l is one of the most refreshing albums I’ve heard in a long time, absolutely bursting at the seams with creativity. Merrill Garbus is one of those rare artists who is capable of committing great leaps of the imagination to tape without drifting off into the obscure or unlistenable. Watching her loop-happy live performances online is a special treat, as her execution is flawless despite the fact that she employs so many off-kilter, rhythmically complex and densely layered elements. My favorite of these videos came in August, when she played “Gangsta” on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon with members of the Roots. I’d give you a link, but none of the embedded videos are currently working because NBC is comprised of a-holes who don’t understand the internet. Listen to the studio version of “Gangsta” below, read more here, and buy here.
Delicate Steve was the source of equal parts laughter, enjoyment and regret during the course of 2011. Laughter because of Chuck Klosterman’s hilarious fake press release; enjoyment because his album Wondervisions is a twisting, turning and totally addictive monument to the endless possibilities of melody; and regret because I wish so badly I could have seen him perform on the tour he did with Ra Ra Riot, as my mother- and father-in-law did in Harrisburg, PA at Appalachian Brewing Company. Hearing my father-in-law talk about how much he enjoyed seeing Delicate Steve helped the bitterness pass though, as it filled me with excitement for whenever I finally make it to one of his shows. Listen to his song “Butterfly” below, read more here, and buy here.
I wrote about Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr incessantly this past year (please don’t do a search for the band’s name in the search bar to the right, my obsession is slightly embarrassing), and much of that writing was about the Detroit duo’s clever marketing and knack for PR. But when you look past their masterfully constructed image, you find sturdy electro-pop tunes that exhibit real heart and soul, as well as a clear gift for arrangement and instrumentation. It’s A Corporate World is an excellent listen from its first notes to its last, and I felt extremely lucky to have seen the album come alive in September at the Southern in Charlottesville, VA (complete with black lights and matching Tigers jackets, of course). Listen to their song “Nothing But Our Love” below, read more here, here and here, and buy here.
Empire Records has to be one of the most underrated music movies. For one thing, its advocacy for locally owned record stores seems more relevant now than ever, even though the nature of their enemy has changed dramatically. Little did we know that Warren, the shoplifter, would evolve and become the real villain. Another great thing about Empire Records is that it’s chock full of well-encapsulated truths about rock music, from the disappointment one can feel upon finally meeting/trying to have sex with a teen idol, to the difficulty that rock stars have maintaining their credibility as they age, to the fact music can act as a filter for our raw emotions, rendering us better equipped to deal with the pressures of day-to-day life. But of all the musical truisms that Empire Records illustrates, my favorite has to be Lucas’ band name advice to Mark: “Always play with their minds.” It seems like an overly philosophical piece of dialogue when Lucas delivers it, but he’s not wrong — cognitive dissonance is crucial to rock music. Taking cues from blues (the blue note gives you a musical itch that only the root note can scratch) and jazz (crazy shit happening everywhere), the most interesting and important rock musicians have always been the ones that challenge us, both in terms of the songs they write and the image they project. One artist currently has different parts of my brain pitted against one another in a ridiculously enjoyable fit of cognitive dissonance, and that artist is Youth Lagoon. On one hand, you have Trevor Powers’ age (just 22) and his vocal style (as vulnerable-sounding as it gets). On the other hand, you have the quality of his debut album, The Year of Hibernation (wonderfully layered and sophisticated), the wisdom of his lyrics (well beyond his years), and the overall feeling of nostalgia he projects (manifested poignantly in the sepia-toned video for his song “Montana”). It just doesn’t add up… and I love it. Pitchfork recently took this set of contradictions one step further in their new series Tunnelvision, which invites innovative directors from all over the web to shoot unique performance videos. I had gotten so accustomed to the yearning, sentimental, and therefore removed texture of Powers’ reverb-soaked vocals on “July” that director Charles Bergquist’s decision to use tightly framed shots was startling at first, like a conceptual version of the dolly zoom shot in Jaws, in which the camera advances on Chief Brody’s face while zooming out at the same time (or maybe it’s the opposite — it’s really hard to tell). It’s an intentionally disorienting experience, but oddly pleasing at the same time. I’m not sure if this is exactly what Bergquist had in mind, but I found his video, and Powers’ performance, to be wildly enjoyable and engaging, and I hope you’ll check it out above, listen to the album version below, buy The Year of Hibernation here, and have some fun confusing the crap out of your brain.
Hearing music you love instantly is an amazing feeling. Everything around you seems to fall into place, as if there’s a sense of order to the world floating just below the surface of everyday life that comes up for air briefly and without warning. I love it. Youth Lagoon gave me this feeling, and even though there are only three songs in the entire world attributed to this one-man musical project, I have to share them with you. I heard about Youth Lagoon (real name Trevor Powers, not to be confused with this Trevor Powers, who has a kickass website with a boss yellow background) from a Pitchfork post, which mentioned that he’s just 22, lives in Boise, Idaho and makes music in his bedroom. These facts are hard to believe, as his music sounds like the work of someone with years of experience arranging and performing, and his style does not seem in the least bit cloistered or juvenile. Of everything that seemed A+ about these songs on the first listen, my favorite element by far is his voice. In an age where anyone’s voice can be futzed with to sound perfect, the effects on his voice make him sound more vulnerable. When he sings “I have more dreams than you have posters of your favorite teams,” it sounds beautifully and painfully earnest, like the tiny voice inside the head of an embattled outcast who won’t give up hope for finding happiness. It’s a vocal sound that’s both unique and endearing, and I can’t wait to hear more when his debut album The Year of Hibernation comes out on September 27. In the meantime, enjoy the three tunes that are out there for our enjoyment: “July,” Cannons,” and “Montana,” the first two of which are available for download on his Bandcamp page.