Trevor Powers was twenty-six when he retired the Youth Lagoon project title back in 2016. Labelling his abandoned moniker a “chokehold”, subsequent freedoms would allow the Boise singer-songwriter to document his own growth from young adulthood to not-so-young adulthood, and the desolation of his country and peers, as if afar, as if planked atop a tree with binoculars equipped.
But the freedoms couldn’t last; the pandemic came, as did a painful ordeal in which Powers wasn’t able to speak. Ascending from rock bottom, this period partially influenced the return of the Youth Lagoon name, picking up from 2015’s Savage Hills Ballroom with album #4, entitled Heaven Is a Junkyard.
The album surveys life’s tendencies to yo-yo; little highs and lows that capture and flip its title; not only is Heaven a junkyard, but even in Hell, one may locate greener grass. Poetically and vocally, the album captures its portrayals with conviction, celebrated via Beach House startles on Mercury, set atop a shaky voice and shifting landscapes that welcome violins as much as they do crackling rhythms.
Conviction is primarily demonstrated by Powers’ voice, now suiting country-ish aspirations, rather than the classical leanings of his eponymous work. While Heaven Is a Junkyard is still brazenly experimental, the volume of Powers’ words is struck plausibly when its musical accompaniment is lean, perhaps conventional. The neat piano of Rabbit allows his voice to percolate like swamp water, reflecting a sorrow formed from memories, joined by likeminded voices, sharing wavelengths on the up-close-and-personal Idaho Alien (“daddy come home and daddy’s on junk”), and Trapeze Artist, which roams from aching to whimsical to catchy.
But his hooky melodies are seldom deterred by built-up instrumentals, whether the spritely, full-band harmonics of Little Devil From the Country, or the glitchy dream pop of Helicopter Toy. If anything, these songs offer new devices with which to enjoy Powers’ realism. Pretty appropriate for an album about balance.
The truly moving adaptations are those possessed by Deep Red Sea, as synths screwy with deceit hopscotch around fierce lines like “you spread that blood like butter”; The Sling, as the believability of Trevor’s words appear disturbed and entranced whilst haunting textures envelop his viewpoint, watching a farmhouse burn; and Prizefighter, the best of the bunch. With the album’s most illustrative poetry (“he had knuckles that could make the devil shy / knuckles of a prize-fighter held high”), the song contains scraping rhythms – some produced by drum machines – and innocent harmonies, not yet bothered by the stressful highs that the adult mind inhabits, yet still grieving the absences in relationships of brothers.
Youth Lagoon’s ability to cast life’s weird trade-offs into a concise structure is inimitable, as are Trevor Powers’ drooping vocals, straining like dead relationships. They’ll ask “what’s in a name?”, but if this is what comes with the Youth Lagoon name, here’s hoping it’s back for good, and the chokehold has loosened.