From the beginning, escapism has played a large role in the music of Trevor Powers. As the mastermind behind Youth Lagoon, Powers comes off as a curious tinkerer who pours himself into sound in an effort to escape his surroundings and anxieties. That's especially true of his 2011 debut, The Year Of Hibernation, whose lovely, introverted songs capture a feeling of confinement and loneliness in his native Boise, Idaho — only to bloom into cascading synth melodies and his trembling, gender-blurring falsetto. That template was pushed a few steps further on his follow-up, 2013's Wondrous Bughouse, where wide-eyed (if dysphoric) songs like "Dropla" stack a Jenga tower of arresting and askew instruments while Powers sings longingly into the far reaches of the cosmos.
Youth Lagoon is set to release a new album, Savage Hills Ballroom (out Sept. 25), and a few savvy fans have already gotten a taste. Late last week, the band surprise-dropped a limited 7" record of its new single "The Knower" at local record stores around the world. Now, the rest of us can hear the song, which points to Youth Lagoon's latest evolution. It also finds him grappling with personal pain, as he ruminates on and tries to understand the experiences and stories of others.
Following the death of one of his closest friends, Powers was forced to cancel his tour and regroup in Idaho. But, he says, the experience allowed him to "start viewing Youth Lagoon differently," and served as a catalyst for reinvention. When it came time to make Savage Hills Ballroom, Powers decamped to Bristol to live and record with producer and engineer Ali Chant (who has worked with Perfume Genius), who helped him take a more focused turn toward dark, bittersweet electronic pop.
Opening with a spare palette of a chiming keyboard and sporadically skittering drum-machine clicks, Powers laments a tendency to mask reality with perceptions we hold about ourselves — from self-image to our capacity to break a cycle of destructive attitudes: "Oh, everybody wants to think that they're good at heart, when they're full of hate," he sings.
Like so many Youth Lagoon songs, "The Knower" allows its intimacy to give way to something grander, as a regal trumpet melody (and then a full horn-section fanfare), electronically triggered vocal percussives, and the trilling of countless synths all build to a celebratory moment. It's a dynamic, uplifting crescendo that reflects Youth Lagoon's boundless creativity — and perhaps mirrors Powers' own journey to growth and change.
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