Youth Lagoon The Year of Hibernation(Fat Possum Records) Buy it from Insound
The Year of Hibernation certainly has the right ingredients to be a successful indie pop release: instantly enjoyable melodies and an approach that lets the music breathe — and that’s just the beginning. With vocals in this dream pop-lifted style (though perhaps lifted is the wrong term, as it implies a sort of negative aspect), there are two dominant approaches used. The first: Load up on guitars, synthesizers, and other sorts of noise to complement the reverb-laden vocals, and don’t let up much throughout (this might be best described as the My Bloody Valentine method). The second: Use the reverb but don’t overload, keep the mix sparse, and give things time to develop.
Neither is particularly easy to accomplish: The former requires such engaging instrumentals throughout that cut through the noise, while the latter requires vocals that are interesting enough to do without obfuscation. Thankfully, this young man (22 is still considered moderately young at least, right?) at the races with this bedroom pop (though I suppose he may have recorded in another room, it’s not particularly a term that requires such literalism) has managed to shoehorn enough interesting noise that lives in the mix that his vocals needn’t be supremely evocative (though, of course, they’re not so bad at all, and there’s a nice melodic quality tucked inside the timidness of it all.)
That’s the thing, though. This is all really very timid stuff from Youth Lagoon: Nothing breaks any prescribed (correctly or incorrectly) rules, nothing shocks the genre, and nothing on the album really teeters on the edge at all. It’s good, mind, but it’s stuff that could have been significantly more exciting had Mr. Lagoon (rather, Mr. Powers, as the artist’s name is Trevor Powers, but that’s getting awfully pedantic) really stuck his neck completely out.
See, this is safe pop music, despite what the heavy reverb and understated vocal style might indicate. It follows in a long line of vaguely lo-fi recordings, so the lack of real sonic clarity isn’t anything to bat your eyes at. The underwhelming-if-effective vocals are just effective enough to carry the music along, and the instrumentals are just enough to carry the vocals.
Why, then, is The Year of Hibernation compelling? I mean, if you break it all apart, there’s nothing to shock the senses, and there’s nothing particularly innovative about the execution of everything together, and the melodies aren’t the catchiest — but that’s not exactly the point. Perhaps it’s best illustrated through musical metaphor: About three minutes into Montana, when things start to get loud, there’s still no neck stuck out, but there’s a good deal of confidence in the build and release, and the emotional pull is actually there. It’s one of those pesky ineffable qualities, emotional pull, but the ever-moody Youth Lagoon has it in spades. (Or, well, something. I suppose if it’s ineffable, it’s hard to have in spades, but that’s that.) That emotional engagement continues from Montana until Seventeen, when the album hits its real apex.
From that vantage, Youth Lagoon has done quite well to get the music together in this emotionally compelling way, but make no mistake, it’s not intense or melodramatic stuff on display. It’s understated, much like the rest of the album’s parts, but it’s there, and with some attention, it can be culled from The Year of Hibernation after a few listens. That, I suppose, is very much worth it. Perhaps the album hits its heights a bit late, but when Youth Lagoon’s full confidence is on display, it’s hard to turn away.7 October, 2011 - 08:50 — Matt Montgomery