Personnel: Trevor Powers (vocals, guitar, violin, piano, Fender Rhodes piano, synthesizer, vibraphone, percussion, programming); Ali Chant (guitar, Fender Rhodes piano, background vocals); Eric Eastman (guitar); Beth Porter (cello); Mike Smith (tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone); Gavin Fitzjohn (tenor saxophone, trumpet, flugelhorn); Moshe Rozenberg (drums, percussion); Daisy Chapman, Tammy Payne (background vocals).
Audio Mixer: Ali Chant.
Recording information: Toybox Studios, Bristol, UK.
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. Powers' distinctive voice, a reedy, untamed amalgam of Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne and Danielson Famile patriarch Daniel Smith, is left mostly untouched effects-wise throughout, and that sonic austerity lends an air of immediacy to the proceedings that has eluded prior outings. Opener "Officer Telephone" treads familiar ground initially, pairing Powers' cryptic prose with a simple keyboard chord progression and a distant hi-hat, but a propulsive midsection yields a surprisingly breakbeat-heavy finale. Elsewhere, the languid "Highway Patrol Stun Gun" impresses with its pure melancholy sunset pop acumen, the meaty single "The Knower" finds Powers boldly wrestling with the dualities of the social media shame/validation cycle, and the soaring "Rotten Human," a hook-filled, pugilistic blast of hard truths and cruel ironies, finds him at his most vocally commanding and affecting. With Savage Hills Ballroom Powers has expanded the Youth Lagoon sound without losing any of the intimacy of his bedroom pop beginnings. He's still transmitting directly from the vagus nerve, and the anxiety behind each track is palpable, but it's madness delivered with a confectioner's touch. ~ James Christopher Monger