Music

Youth Lagoon: The Year of Hibernation

Matthew Fiander

This album is about retreat from the world for a reason: it's a deeply anxious record, one that channels deep anxieties, even as they're crowded with textures we usually find relaxing.


Youth Lagoon

The Year of Hibernation

US Release: 2011-09-27
UK Release: 2011-09-27
Label: Fat Possum
Amazon
iTunes

Trevor Powers, the 22-year-old guy behind Youth Lagoon, pulls off a pretty clever trick with The Year of Hibernation. It feels, at first, like a breezy record. The gauzy layers of keys and guitar, those spacious drum-machine beats, Powers' keening vocals with their sense of wonder (something like a more tuneful Daniel Johnston), it all sounds sweet, downright wistful.

Once you dig into the record, though, you get immersed in those hazy textures, and there's some serious worry beneath them. The Year of Hibernation is about retreat from the world for a reason. It's a deeply anxious record, one that channels into Powers' fears, even as he crowds them with tones we generally find relaxing. Opener "Posters" shows this perfectly. The first half of the song features dreamy keys surging in the background while Powers bleats out his feelings. "I used to be outspoken," he admits. "Do anything for anyone's attention." He sings this with a charge to his voice, but then he falters. Things have changed. "You make real friends quickly," he then says, and with a wobbly whisper he adds, "But not me."

From there, a simple bass line comes in like a ticking clock, and when the beat kicks up it is jarring, even frightening. It's not a surge of energy, it's a spike of panic. It buries Powers's singing further in the mix, and you can feel the anxiety flowing around him. There's an almost childlike insistence of hope in these songs -- "I have more dreams than you have posters of your favorite teams," he assures us on "Cannons" -- but it too often seems small in comparison to the mounting tension. The best moments of the record cut through that miasmic tension with a sharp guitar riff, as on "Posters" or "Afternoon". In other places, Powers's otherwise obscured vocals -- they're often rendered impossible to understand by a thick cloud of echo and hiss -- clear and deliver a sweet sentiment or heartbreaking worry, or sometimes both. "When I was 17, my mother said to me 'Don't stop imagining'," he sings on "17". "The day that you do is the day that you die." It's a sweet ode to youthful, even naïve hope, and to the support of family, but it's also troubling, since Powers sounds so often close to losing that imagination.

How he composes these tracks is awfully imaginative, though, combining the dreamy keys and beats of electro-pop with the tense guitars of jangle-pop to create something decidedly moodier than either of those. His imagination does falter, though, when it comes to relating this anxiety to us as an audience. We get a vague idea of what this fear feels like -- the music is evocative enough -- but as the album's title implies, this is often an insular affair. The trouble with hibernation is that it wholly closes the subject off from its habitat, from the world, which makes it a pretty tough study. Similarly, Powers -- only as a musical persona, by the way -- feels too removed from us. A line here or there lays fear out plainly but indistinctly, so this doesn't always resonate as much as it could. In the end, this captures one experience and we need some conduit, some specifics among all these blurred sounds and sentiments, to understand this in any concrete way.

The Year of Hibernation needs what T.S. Eliot called the "objective correlative" (if you'll excuse the nerdy literary reference). To launch it to greatness, this album needs details, images, even more defined musical parts that make this specific anxiety something we can all recognize. It doesn't need to be universal; it just needs to be more inviting and less insular, less about intense, sometimes shapeless feeling, and more about what it could mean, how it could resonate. There's a compelling musician under all these layers -- of sound and worry -- we just need a few more peeled away for us to see him fully.

6

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image