In 2016, Trevor Powers retired his project Youth Lagoon because it had grown too confining, and he had done all he could within the expectations he set for the group. This year, Powers returns, not reinvented, but stripped down to his rawest self. Under his own name and on his own label, Baby Halo, he released single “Playwright” in May, including with its debut a handwritten note, discussing “inaudible voices that scream when we’re alone and mumble when we’re not” and asserting that “every person alive is full of opposing forces” in introducing his new stylistic world.
Life’s opposing dichotomies, and the pressure therein form the basis of Mulberry Violence, the first album Powers has released since Youth Lagoon’s trilogy, and across the album, Powers lets himself react to pain and tension with introspection and furious release. The final result: ten sonically experimental tracks that see Powers fearlessly dive into some of the rawest moments of the human experience and, most importantly, come through it still whole.
The tone of the album is unambiguous from the start. “XTQ Idol” opens the album with glitching shouts, Powers’ already otherworldly voice – powerful for how fragile it can sound – processed and layered over apocalyptic synth static. As mechanical as it is, it’s still a fully human dissonance, the electric feeling of panic and rage stretching a mind so thin that it threatens to rip. Powers, though, never falls apart. He presses forward, all the while painting with an aural palette that perfectly matches his lyrics and that demonstrates his technical prowess and finesse.
Though the emotion is unfiltered, the care taken with each arrangement is painstaking, from the spooky retro horns that lend a French cabaret touch to “Clad in Skin” to the creeping pizzicato string sounds of low-key groove “Ache”. It’s a balancing act necessary to fully realizing Powers’ creative vision, as well as one that takes his expressions from simply sincere to truly poignant. “Playwright” may be the truest evidence of the care Powers has taken, the minimalist accompaniment to his voice featuring delicate keys and only the occasional burst of rumbling noise as he gets personal: “Evidence you ever lived no longer exists / Except the heart inside your kids / I still cry for you, I still hear your voice when I speak.”
Though Mulberry Violence could rightly be termed experimental – there’s nothing standard or predictable about this music – there is also something classically appealing about each song. Powers has a strong sense of melodic structure and does not rely on shock and awe tactics in his explorations. Instead, he makes music that is accessible, not because it conforms to norms, but because it comes from a place of truth. The stories Powers tells rely as much on aesthetics as lyrical content. No element is taken for granted in his holistic approach; Powers chooses the best sounds to amplify the darkness of anguish or to set the right tone for tales of abuse or abandonment.
By beginning to make music under his own name, Trevor Powers has opened himself up to a new range of possibilities. Mulberry Violence makes it clear that he has the artistic scope and emotional depth to take full advantage of the opportunities he has given himself, and the versatility to keep things very interesting.