[BOISE BEDROOM POP] Boise native Trevor Powers is not scared of blending in with the crowd. At first listen, his debut album as Youth Lagoon, drenched in damping effect and reverb, sounds like another product of a generation that specializes in computing emotion. But upon further inspection, one starts to notice just how good his stuff actually is. The songs are deeply revealing tales of personal heartache and triumph; the production is elegant, with catchy guitar melodies and intricate piano layers. And most surprisingly, despite loading down his vocals with effects, Powers can really sing.
So why does Powers go to such great lengths to cover up his warm hum of a voice? He’s just being himself, the 22-year-old says. “I’m never going to be like, ‘Oh, what can I do that no one has ever heard?’ Or, ‘How can I be the most original?’ My belief is if you create what is really yourself, that’s where originality comes from.”
As a self-portrait, Powers’ much-hyped album, The Year of Hibernation, is quite telling. The distortion effects that give his music an airy intricacy demonstrate perfectly the shy complexity of his personality. Powers, who dropped out of Boise State University last year to pursue music full time, believes the best way he can make music representative of himself is by making it sound “detached”—an emotion (or lack thereof) he says he’s felt his whole life.
After the breakup of a relationship in 2010, Powers felt worse than ever. That’s when his Bon Iver story began. Powers took the money he once spent on counseling for his chronic anxiety and funneled it into studio time. It took him a year to record the album.
One can hear Powers’ mood on the disc. The record’s soft piano lines and melodic synths are used to create an ambience of separation. “There’s a lot of music that is fueled by being around people and partying,” he says. “The stuff that I write is more reflective. I like to be alone to gather my thoughts.”
Still, it would be nice to hear Powers’ voice laid bare. His recent release of a cover of John Denver’s “Goodbye Again,” recorded with almost no vocal reverb, proves just how powerful his voice can be. With a whole generation of musicians using vocal effects—from T-Pain to James Blake to Washed Out—will future listeners find The Year of Hibernation sounds time-stamped like ’70s disco or ’80s smooth jazz?
Powers isn’t worried about it. The vocal effects are “mysterious elements that draw you into the rest of the song rather than just allowing you to focus on what the vocals are saying,” he says. About that John Denver cover: Powers blames the engineer who helped record the song for not adjusting his vocals correctly—otherwise, he says, he would have used some effects there, too.
Youth Lagoon’s debut is a striking, impressive disc. And if Powers’ music flies along comfortably with the prevailing indie-music winds, he says he’s not worried about it. “Whatever the music calls for, I will use,” he says. “Whether it’s being overused or not.”
Cannons by Youth Lagoon