Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation

written by: October 26, 2011
Youth Lagoon - The Year of the Hibernation album cover Release Date: September 27, 2011

★★★★☆

By the time you’ve listened through the intro track, “Posters,” you’ll have a pretty good grasp of what Youth Lagoon’s debut album, The Year of Hibernation, has to offer. Through the four minutes it takes the song to run its course, there’s a slow yet powerful build to an emotional climax, an excellent bass breakdown, a catchy drumbeat and an overwhelming sense of all-encompassing anxiety.

Youth Lagoon is the name multi-instrumentalist Trevor Powers uses while mixing piano and synths together to form surprisingly introspective and emotional chillwave music, and his first full-length album is an overwhelming success. Over the course of  The Year of Hibernation’s eight tracks, listeners are given a fresh and unique experience: catchy, structurally simple riffs float in, overdose on reverb, are given space to expand and echo, and yet still end up immediately understandable, accessible, and even occasionally danceable. It’s rare when an artist can take something simple and turn it into something elegant, but that’s exactly what Powers does with his synths and that’s why the album is so strong.

The synths make or break the songs, and as a result, instrumentation frequently overrides the vocals, which are often downplayed or kept quiet, and heavily filtered to sound hazy or watery. Focusing on the lush synthesizer or piano riffs definitely plays to the band’s strengths, but those interested in dissecting and absorbing the lyrics may have a difficult time deciphering exactly what Powers is singing.

Although the muddied vocals fit perfectly into the heavy reverb of the album, it’s still a little disappointing that the wording is so hard to make out because the lyrics really are well-written and tap into some powerful feelings—listeners just won’t notice unless they really dig for it. Luckily, the album’s sound alone provides a very concrete emotional context for us to connect to, so muffled vocals aren’t really a big hindrance. Still, it’s something to be prepared for when first listening to the record.

That constant appeal to emotional connection, surprisingly varied song structure and strong instrumentation make every track on the album worth multiple listens, but highlight tracks such as the aforementioned “Posters,” the catchy and drum-driven “Cannons,” and the upbeat and ever-changing “Daydream” will keep listeners returning to The Year of Hibernation for multiple takes.

If there is one song people have to hear though, it’s the album’s seventh track, “Montana,” which perfectly captures what makes all of the above great and then ramps it all up. It’s a slow build to an extremely satisfying expulsion of emotion that stays with the listener long after the album is over. It’s hard not to cheer along when the song hits the explosive climax. It’s almost a must-listen experience, and it really shows how great The Year of Hibernation can be.

It’s melodically simple, but lyrically dense; catchy, but heartbreaking and genuine, The Year of Hibernation marks Youth Lagoon as one of the best new acts in recent memory, and if there’s any real complaint to be made about the album, it’s that it’s over too quickly.

Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation Tracklist:

  1. “Posters”
  2. “Cannons”
  3. “Afternoon”
  4. “17″
  5. “July”
  6. “Daydream”
  7. “Montana”
  8. “The Hunt”