I found myself crawling to my phone, as many of us do, when I woke up late one afternoon in April. Using the lackluster dopamine rush, and sting of artificial blue screen light to help me rise, my drowsiness was erased when I read through one of the most unexpected announcements I’ve ever seen. Gabe’s posted a flyer of a Youth Lagoon tour starting in July, with one of the first stops in Iowa City. The pure surprise of this had me wide awake. Youth Lagoon had not had a release of any kind since 2015, leaving me to conclude, since I discovered their music, that the project was over. Another cult indie act not to return.
Obviously, this ended up not being the case. After feeling ostracized by his own music, Trevor Powers, the man behind the Youth Lagoon project, decided to return to it as he was recovering from a mysterious and drastic health condition that left his vocal cords damaged, and his body weakened. However, from this whole incident, he had an epiphany of self-discovery, and documenting this is the album Heaven is a Junkyard, the first Youth Lagoon release since 2015, and the cause for their first tour in over five years.
Nina Keith leaning over an array of synthesizers. Image via John Glab
Nina Keith opens for the first two weeks of the Junkyard tour, playing her glassy, minimalistic ambient pieces. The brisk air from the incessant rotating fans, and the cold blueish-white light blanketing the stage amplified the icy atmosphere that the music built. Standing there it felt like being surrounded by frozen walls in an ancient glacial cave. Rocks clambering against the metal on a vibraphone sounded like icicles breaking off from the ceiling. Quick lush noises flashed over classical soundscapes and low surging reverberations. In a reoccurring move by Keith and her bandmate Massima, they would strum the ends of the bars on the vibraphone to create chilling ethereal swells.
Youth Lagoon began the set with the tracks “Rabbit” and “Prizefighter,” both off the new album. On the right, Trevor Powers sat surrounded by three different synthesizers, and a small tower that housed drum machines, other electronic instruments and a laptop with a neon orange duct tape cross. A drum set sat on the left side of the stage being sparsely used since most of the songs’ percussion came electronically from the press of a button. Powers’ bandmates, Chad and Logan, occupied the middle, and swapped roles between playing guitar, drums and bass. Despite Gabe’s smaller performance space, they still managed to include drenching RGB LED lights, setting them angled on the ground.
Trevor Powers among his set up. Image via John Glab
The third song of the night was “Cannons” from 2011’s The Year of Hibernation. When Powers played the glimmering synth lead, the audience stirred with excitement. A faint echo of “I have more dreams than you have posters of your favorite teams” from voices singing along backed Powers’ vocals. That echo grew with intensity as the instrumentation became more engulfing, before ending with its biting guitar solo. Youth Lagoon didn’t abandon the older tracks that Powers grew to feel detached from, and played multiple other classics including “Montana” and “17,” which further stimulated the crowd. These tracks followed the calm, reflective, stripped back structure that built up into flooding zeniths, and elongated, indie power-pop jams.
Following “Cannons” was the song “Deep Red Sea” which had a very loungey feel from plinking piano licks, and light plucked basslines, but still intwined with a course synth part during its end. The setlist was dominated by tracks from the new album. Fitting for the Junkyard tour. The jazzier arrangements of these songs allowed for more people to shuffle along with the music, giving the audience a livelier radiation. The lyrics on these songs had a lot of clarity and personal elements, like with “Trapeze Artist,” which Powers briefly spoke on the tumultuous state he was in while writing it, before playing the song. Tracks like “Idaho Alien” had smooth hooks with lingering, memorable flows. Even though those in the audience were more unfamiliar with the songs because of their novelty, many were still able to find themselves mouthing along to them.
Image via John Glab
Powers interacted with the audience a lot during the performance, talking back with different people. In one instance, Powers had asked for Chad’s bass to be turned down in his headphone monitors because the reverb was too much to handle. After himself feeling bad for the request, the crowd started chanting Chad’s name to seemingly boost his spirits. They then cycled through Logan and ended with Trevor’s name. Youth Lagoon then played what they claimed to be the last song “Mercury” ending with its forcible chorus.
The three members then walked off the stage and out the back door unconvincingly for a predictable encore. Most of the people in attendance still stood around, either because they too saw through the game of peek-a-boo or were still left buzzing from the performance. Somewhat sheepishly, the band walked back on stage and played the songs “Posters” and “Dropla” for the encore. Afterwards, Powers expressed his gratitude towards the audience, and seemed genuinely humbled by the reaction throughout the night.
You can listen to Heaven is a Junkyard and all the other Youth Lagoon releases on their Bandcamp and other streaming services. Youth Lagoon continue their tour for another week before taking a break and returning again in September.
Deep Red Sea
Trapeze Artist Mute
Little Devil from the Country