Youth Lagoon’s Trevor Powers Brings Experimental Indie Pop to Brooklyn on Heaven is a Junkyard Tour
Written by mccormacke1 on October 9, 2023
Photos & Review by Rob Ferguson
After eight years since his last release as Youth Lagoon, it was unclear if Idaho-based musician Trevor Powers would ever record again under the moniker. His later projects had a different energy – instead of the indie, bedroom-produced sound of The Year of Hibernation (2011) and experimental charm of Wondrous Bughouse (2013) and Savage Hills Ballroom (2015), Powers’ two eponymous albums mostly fell under the electronic and ambient genres. But after an illness in 2022 nearly ruined his vocal cords and ended his musical career, he believed there was no time more fitting to return.
Powers released his 2023 album Heaven is a Junkyard to critical acclaim, earning Best New Music from Pitchfork. The record was a homecoming of sorts, and although each collection of Youth Lagoon’s songs could be considered a reinvention of his sound, this felt like a return to the fundamentals. For this reason, the Heaven is a Junkyard Tour was highly anticipated, and as a huge fan of Powers’ music was unmissable for me. On September 20th, Powers and his band, consisting of guitarist Logan Hyde and bassist/indie artist urika’s bedroom, stopped at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn.
The energy leading up to the concert was fantastic. The charming venue provided the perfect atmosphere for the music we were about to hear, and I arrived an hour early to ensure I could get a spot in the front of the crowd. Seeing Powers live for the first time was exhilarating for me. I was hoping to hear as many songs as possible from my favorite Youth Lagoon album, his 2011 debut, The Year of Hibernation. The album is very important to me, so I was grateful for the opportunity to see Powers perform live.
Opening the concert was a surprisingly underground act called urika’s bedroom, who told the audience the show was a part of their first ever tour. The band’s frontman was also the bassist for Powers afterwards. urika’s bedroom is a project of musician and producer Tchad Cousins, who cites Alex G and Ecco2k as inspirations. urika recently released his first single, “Junkie,” which forms a sort of auditory landscape which the listener traverses throughout the song.
I was thoroughly impressed by the set, which was performed by Cousins, guitarist Silas Johnson (who was absolutely lovely when I met him at the band’s solo show the next night) and a very talented drummer whose name I was not able to find. The music, highlighted by distorted guitars and loud percussion, contained aspects of Deftones with more hushed vocals. urika’s voice was indignant, calculated, and the heavy rhythm guitar and drums weighed it down. I thought the band’s set was absolutely awesome, and its style was a welcomed contrast to Powers’ more electronic sound. I recommend the band to fans of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless and Slowdive’s self-titled album.
Trevor Powers began the show with his 2023 album’s first track “Rabbit.” The song is one of my favorites from Heaven is a Junkyard because it demonstrates Powers’ ability to build soundscapes around abstract concepts and characters. Next was my personal favorite from the album (and my unashamed most-streamed song of 2023) “Prizefighter.” The simple, yet moving piece is laced with melodic piano and flowing bass complimented by a slide guitar, exploring themes of resilience, loss, and brotherhood.
After two more new songs, “Deep Red Sea” and intimate “The Sling,” the band performed “Afternoon,” a Hibernation-era track. During the song’s swelling, mellifluous outro, Powers’ hypnotic and tender vocalizing was highlighted by equally impressive performances from Cousins and Hyde. Due to the largely electronic nature of Powers’ works, he spent most of the show behind his piano/workstation, playing samples and laying down synthesizers when needed. For the same reason, save for a few of the more powerful tracks towards the end of the night, the drum set was untouched for most of the set. “Trapeze Artist,” Powers explained, was the product of a time during the recovery from his illness where he was overcoming obstacle after obstacle. “Life threw me against a brick wall, and it was exactly what I needed to wake me up,” Powers reflected while talking about the song.
After the experimental yet rich “Mute” provided a lengthy, layered auditory environment with spiritual undertones, the band performed the defiant “Little Devil From the Country.”
Next in the set was “Montana,” a Hibernation deep cut which tells a first-person account of a breakup and lays the foundation for self-growth and moving on in its latter half. The song’s self-assuring, piano-backed coda is a highlight of the album. “Idaho Alien” is a love song to Powers’ hometown of Boise with references to drug addiction, and contained roadhouse-style piano with a swung rhythm.
Following, “Cannons,” is a stubborn commitment to follow one’s own compass, the band launched into the powerful, yet vulnerable “Mercury” to cap off the main set. The song expresses feelings of anxiety regarding confrontations of mortality and a yearning for the comfort of a non-earthly realm. As Powers sang the last lines of the evocative song, “Steal my words / In the world, I’m afraid / All the lives that I made / In the world I won’t stay / Does heaven glow, glow like mercury?” He rose from the piano and kneeled at the edge of the stage. The band then launched into an immense instrumental exploration of the song, spanning several minutes and featuring intensifying synthesizers with growing layers of lead guitar and bass. It was in this moment that each member of the band truly shined, creating a peaking, immersive emotional experience at the show’s climax.
Upon returning to the stage amid pleas from the audience for an encore, Powers encountered a brief struggle with his equipment’s power supply. After several confused-looking crew members wandered onto the stage unplugging and re-plugging various cables, Powers’ keyboard regained power, prompting various wordplay opportunities that were shouted enthusiastically by audience members. He then began a performance of the naive, retrospective “17” from his debut album. At the start of the first chorus, the band emerged from backstage to cheers from the crowd and finished the song as a group effort. “17” is one of my favorite songs of all time, with Powers’ songwriting and raw vocals portraying the experience of growing up in a way I feel few artists are able to.
Next was 2013 experimental song “Dropla,” followed by a full-energy instrumental performance which provided a surprisingly fitting end to the concert.
The show was absolutely amazing, and there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll see Youth Lagoon again at the next possible chance. I really appreciated that he took the time after the show to speak with every single fan who waited outside to meet him, happily signing records and taking pictures.
I had a great conversation with Trevor, and I was happy to find that he was as down-to-earth and kind in person as he comes across in his music. I strongly recommend Youth Lagoon’s music and seeing him on tour to anyone looking to take an emotional journey through sound.