Youth Lagoon – The Year Of Hibernation

In 1975, Kraftwerk, the German electronic band, gave an interview to Creem where they confronted the new fear (they were one of the first electronic bands, you’ll recall) that music made by machines could not approach the humanity of traditional rock’n’roll, that it could not evoke the same emotion. “Emotion is a strange word. There is a cold emotion and other emotion, both equally valid. It’s not body emotion, it’s mental emotion.” The comparison between Kraftwerk and Trevor Powers, the 22 year old from Idaho who goes by the moniker Youth Lagoon, is not perfect, but 36 years later it’s impossible to deny that music built and played by electronic instruments shows just as much technical proficiency and just as much emotional evocation. Anybody who’s seen a Girl Talk show knows that knob-twisting and button-pushing can be just as electric an experience as any Stones tour, especially now that the balladeers of the old school look and sound well past having both feet in the grave (e.g. The Who at the Superbowl two years ago, or closer geographically and temporally, Meatloaf at last week’s Grand Final). The Year Of Hibernation, the debut album of Youth Lagoon, is the most recent in that lineage of exquisite, emotive, electronic albums, a category that’s been pretty good to 2011.Of course, this is no mashup album, and at the heart of the effects lies a guitar and a piano, manipulated to be as cavernous as possible. Then there’s the drum machine: in some places, like “Cannons” and the coda of “Posters”, Powers wraps fluctuating, synthesized noise around beats that could find a home in hip-hop, the kind of thing Drake or Kid Cudi might rap over. In others, like “July”, it stretches out and gets nailed down by a heavier, rhythmic thumping. Powers diversifies the pace such that the crescendo of each song stays a curiosity, but the consistent sound of each track strings them close enough together that it also remains immersive. Powers claims the album is inspired by his paralyzing anxiety. “I would have panic attacks in my room before bed over things that don’t make sense to the average person.” It’s evident; the haunting, high-pitched lilt of his voice and the claustrophobic layers of instrumentation vacillate between being as asphyxiating as a bout of anxiety or as solemn as loneliness. Lyrically the album is autobiographical, as according to Powers the onus for writing it was to get shit out of his head he couldn’t elsewhere, so we’re treated to concerns about his future and stories from his past. “You wore a hoodless sweatshirt on your bed that night / With black leggings, I’ve never seen your face so white / Your honestly was killing me / The monsters in the room were all dancing to the music all around us” he sings on “Montana”, recalling with eidetic precision a scenario in which he knew he would never see this person he loved again. And on July: “We scaled a ladder ascending to the roof / While five years ago I weeped and no one knew / Holding my guitar, I strummed a tune / I sang ‘I love you but I have to cut you loose.” More than any night terrors, what the album does is articulate the oppressive fear of having already lost all the people that were important, the fear that there’s no one left to take their place. The Portuguese have this word called saudade, a deep, nostalgic longing for something one loves with the knowledge that it might never return. It’s not simply nostalgia but deeper, with greater sadness, a feeling of melancholic remembrance of something now impossible.  It is “the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought pleasure, which now triggers the senses that make one live again.” It’s this feeling, this deep longing and sadness, that is the essence of The Year Of Hibernation. by Jake Cleland

October 3rd 2011
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