Back-to-basics albums have become a cliché nowadays, but for Youth Lagoon’s Trevor Powers, making one was almost inevitable. After the aching bedroom pop sounds of his debut, the Year of Hibernation, Powers pivoted hard with 2013’s Wondrous Bughouse, a record of hazy, Animal Collective-like psychedelic rock. His latest release, Savage Hills Ballroom, may be full of electronic flourishes and orchestral instruments, but it’s largely a return to the warm, hushed dreaminess of his debut.
For Powers, though, the album marks the next logical chapter in the Youth Lagoon narrative, which he can now control at his will thanks to his recent success. “Back when I had first started the project, I didn’t have the same resources that I do now, even down to people that I know who are horn players and string players,” he says. “I have a lot more that I am capable of playing around with.”
Despite the evolution of his sound, there’s an aesthetic to Powers’s music that has been consistent since 2011, when he began performing under the Youth Lagoon moniker. Nearly all of his songs, no matter how simple or layered, feature his high-pitched vocal croon and electric piano. The same goes for lyrics. Powers is a yearner, constantly trying to capture some feeling of the past that may be dead and gone.
For Savage Hills Ballroom, he connected with this sentiment by taking late night runs through his rural Idaho neighborhood, which reminded him of the town in Edward Scisshorhands. Those trips got Powers thinking about the fading ideal of suburban perfection, the way troubled people use lavish homes and properties to mask their discontent with life. “I kept getting caught up on that idea that people were trying to put up this front,” he says. “So I started thinking about ballrooms, gold, and having gold in my face, and almost making a satire of that idea like, ‘If you want perfect, I’ll give you perfect.’”
That theme comes to life in songs like the trip hop-y “The Knower” (“Everybody wants to think that they won’t grow old/ Yet they keep aging”) or in the percussive, anthemic “No One Can Tell,” where Powers describes a sad, sloppy ballroom party: “You’re fetching in the cobwebs/ Dress is stained with wine.”
When Powers plays the 9:30 Club in DC on November 1, he hopes to channel the essence of his new material. Weaving in songs from Wondrous Bughouse and the Year of Hibernation shouldn’t be too difficult though. Youth Lagoon is his personal diary where every story, no matter the context, is told by the same narrator. “I view the songs from a clean slate,” he says. “I’ve been doing Youth Lagoon now for almost five years. A lot has changed, but you have to view the songs from an open mind to make them mesh together.”