Trevor Powers has had a pretty rough past few years.
In 2011, Powers went through a major breakup around the same time that he was diagnosed with chronic anxiety. So, he wrote an album about it called “The Year of Hibernation” and started calling himself Youth Lagoon. It relied on a very airy aesthetic, with deep, personal lyrics supporting the lighter sound.
In 2013, he released an album called “Wondrous Bughouse” to explain all of the horrible effects that touring — instead of seeking emergency psychiatric treatment — had on him. If “Hibernation” sounds like the sky looks, “Bughouse” sounds like a box of creepy old dolls filled with centipedes.
Soon after the release of “Bughouse,” Powers lost a close friend on tour in Europe, which led him to write his newest release, “Savage Hills Ballroom,” an album at war with itself.
“Hibernation” was recorded when the wounds were still fresh. Powers had a sad story to tell, so he told it behind a wall of lo-fi fuzz through a mic in a kitchen in Idaho. “Bughouse,” on the other hand, was recorded when he seriously thought he was going to die, so he adopted a bad-trip sound to make other people feel the way he did. “Savage Hills” is Powers trying to say he’s managing this whole “soul-searching” thing, but he does a poor job of showing us how.
To start, “Savage Hills” doesn’t sound like either of Powers’ previous albums. It’s a strange combination of ’80s dance and ’90s pop, and his super high, unattractive singing voice makes it even weirder — as if the synthesizer/piano combo wasn’t enough.
Powers is definitely more confident in this album than in others — for one, it’s the only album that puts his voice at the forefront instead of as an afterthought — but the confidence is undercut with confession. That seems to be the only thing holding the entire album together; the songs are good individually, but they don’t work together well enough to build an album.
“Officer Telephone” is the lead track, and it sets the disjointed tone for the entire album. Beginning as a vocal-heavy, bluesy tune, the song has a major shift in tone towards the middle, switching to a ’90s-inspired dance track.
“Highway Patrol Stun Gun” has a lot more substance, which is particularly important for a ballad about police brutality. This is a song about mourning, and no lines make that clearer than, “Remember when no one danced the same/We all had a voice, we all had a name,” and “Dripping in blood, waiting for your return/In a repetition hall of your nocturne.” It’s these subtle jabs that really make the song what it is.
“No One Can Tell” is about Powers breaking down his own barriers and is basically a “screw you” to his ex. It also has a ton of cool imagery — like “rose petals in a vacuum” — that project his hostility. It’s clear he’s still upset about it (“Instead of love, I lost you,”), but the precision of the song’s melody shows that despite the breakup, he’s doing fine without her.
I’m conflicted with this album. Some of the songs work well, but it’s hard to listen to the whole album in one sitting and expect that it was meant to sound like one package. My problem is that it doesn’t gel together like “Hibernation” did with its sound or “Bughouse” did with its concepts. Is “Savage Hills Ballroom” worth listening to? Definitely, but I can’t promise that you’ll like it.