600888_535206776541872_1053925951_n– GORILLA, MANCHESTER –

Trevor Powers, aka Youth Lagoon, is a mystery unto himself. With Tim Burton-esque hair and a slight hunchback at age 23, this is the kind of guy who wanders down the street with a glass of wine in hand, dreaming up existential lyrics (kudos from a fellow wino). It’s not just his music that sounds mature beyond his years, but also his deep introspectiveness. His debut album The Year of Hibernation, released in 2010, was low-key and half shy, a soft homage to “psychological dysphoria.” Follow-up album Wondrous Bughouse emerges emboldened from the influence of producer Ben H. Allen, who is credited with coaxing the likes of Animal Collective and Deerhunter out of their safe houses. What Allen has done for Youth Lagoon is entice the artist’s residual uncertainty and mould it into something forthright, in the search for the unknown.

Wondrous Bughouse, Powers claims, was born of an unhealthy preoccupation with mortality. Live, lyrics such as “As I hear the horses drawing close, over all the corpses we loved most” contrast vividly with the intrinsic vitality of the performance, the full supporting band amplifying and lifting Powers’ frail vocals. One minute into ‘Mute’ a bittersweet keyboard refrain kicks in, shifting the tone towards something a little more hopeful, a little more “everything’s not alright but that’s okay.” It’s a wonderful opener, setting the stage for what is to come. It’s followed by the childish innocence of ‘Sleep Paralysis,’ a tune that presents itself as a dreamy lullaby but descends into a clownish lament, disorientation clouding the sense that “I’ve been lost too many times to be free.”

Next on the setlist is the closing track from Hibernation: ‘Cannons’. The change in tone is discernible, his fledgling back catalogue a sweeter, almost hesitant exploration of life’s complexities. There is a desire for protection in these lyrics – “Rolling up the windows of my ’96 Buick/So the rain can’t get inside of it” – while the arrangement is lighter under foot than his new material. As if to dispel this reverie Powers revs up with ‘Pelican Man,’ a bass-heavy number that begins tentatively but gradually swells into crashing drums and anxious keyboard refrains. Here the supporting band members are given an outlet for release, a chance to experiment and stretch the material into uncharted territory.

‘Attic Door’ and ‘Raspberry Cane’ are beasts of a different nature, the former a playful, bumbling tune with minimal lyrics where Powers and his distorted keyboard take the centre stage, the latter a sorrowful contemplation of death and love that loops and folds around a Beatles-esque chorus. Throughout the set Powers says little, only pausing briefly to drawl timidly, “This is my first time in Maaaaanchesterr.” He is most at home far down inside his music, captivated by it as if it is his only link to the real world. This much is clear in ‘Daisyphobia,’ a long, cascading descent into an instrumental phantasmagoria where everything is not as it seems.

Youth Lagoon, aka Trevor Powers, is a musical force to be reckoned with, and at such a young age is set to mystify his followers like an American Nick Drake. His songs are deeply personal and gently anguished, a quivering portrait of his soul. One of the last songs I stay to hear is ‘Dropla,’ a haunting conclusion to the overriding theme of death as Powers assures us, and himself, that “You’ll never die.” Given Youth Lagoon’s meteoric ascent from the back-end of nowhere, Idaho, this is only the beginning of the long journey into that good night.

Bee Gebhardt

A jack-ette of all trades (and arguably mistress of none), I’m an editor, law student, avid runner, travel fiend, wine-guzzler and above all, music lover. Originally from South Africa, I’m now a proud Mancunian. This city is awesome − the only thing I can complain about is the damn weather.