Album Review: Savage Hills Ballroom by Youth Lagoon
Very Good, Based on 7 Critics
AllMusic - 80 Based on rating 8/10
Boise, Idaho-based D.I.Y. singer/songwriter Trevor Powers steps outside, geographically speaking, for the first time on his third studio long-player, the stark, soulful, and often strident Savage Hills Ballroom. Recorded in Bristol, England with producer Ali Chant (Perfume Genius, Giant Sand, Gravenhurst), who wisely removes the safety net of cumbrous vocal reverb that has served as the vessel with which Powers has been delivering his falsetto-led laments to the myriad pains of youth since his 2011 debut, the ten-track set is Youth Lagoon's most cohesive and mesmerizing to date.
Something’s shifted in Trevor Powers. Three albums in, the Idaho musician has gone from bedroom-based breakout to fully-fledged force. Songs that used to swim around in hazy tones are sharp and precise, with nothing to hide. In doing this, Powers has still retained his ability to seem unhinged, on the point of emotional implosion.
“It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we’re alive - to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are.” – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Facades are lifted, often unceremoniously, on the third effort from Boise’s Trevor Powers, aka Youth Lagoon. Even as he brushes aside the “bedroom pop” categorisation and proclaims that “everything is made of gold”, however, it’s the spectre of death that hangs most heavily from the chandeliers in Savage Hills Ballroom.
Youth Lagoon's first two albums felt introspective at the time: Trevor Powers mused about the posters in his childhood bedroom, his first "it's not you, it's me," and driving his parents' car in a meek mewl that come off as conversational rather than performative. He favored post-production tricks that made him either sound trapped in a well or a bouncy castle, but he always sounded alone, and the music bore none of the visceral signifiers of rock. But he'd likely call his previous work "insular" now, created at a point when he was lucky enough to talk about love, death, and the societal contract as abstractions and avoid dealing with the real shit going on inside of him.
Trevor Powers’ first album as Youth Lagoon felt like it was never meant to be heard by anyone other than himself. His voice hung behind a curtain of reverb, while his synthesizer and guitar tones seemed to creep out from a childhood fever dream. But the strength of the Idaho songwriter’s work earned a swarm of attention, and he started making music intended to be heard by everybody, in all directions, forever.
As if to answer the charge that his debut navel-gazed and its follow-up meandered, Trevor Powers's third album as Youth Lagoon announces his newfound forthrightness with a minimalist cover design. Savage Hills Ballroom it reads in yellow text, embroidered on blue, followed by a subtitle: “A Collection of 10 Songs by Youth Lagoon.” Sure enough, while hardly the pilgrimage to pre-Sgt. Pepper rock n' roll purity suggested by the cover's retro block lettering, Savage Hills Ballroom is forceful and formally rigorous in a fashion yet unseen from Powers.
After two albums of shimmering psychedelia that twirl with the whimsy of fairy tales, Trevor Powers (aka Youth Lagoon) has gone hard. The 26-year-old from Boise, Idaho, sounds bolder, the production is crisper, and the wondrous effects that characterized his dreamy sound have nearly disappeared. The bombastic, echoing drum machine on the single The Knower might feel like a natural progression, but no one could have expected a full-out dubstep synth breakdown.