Youth Lagoon : Heaven Is a Junkyard

Youth Lagoon Heaven is a Junkyard review

For better or worse, Trevor Powers could never really escape Youth Lagoon. For a while at least, he gave it up—the Youth Lagoon moniker being something like a trap, a kind of self-made enclosure constantly boxing him in. After a brief attempt to put it aside, he’s back, releasing his first record as Youth Lagoon in eight years, Heaven Is A Junkyard. Working through his relationship with his own identity, and Youth Lagoon as a whole, is a primary force behind this record, but what is clear is how well this mask seems to fit, even eight years later. Some names are meant to stick. 

They also have a way of creating a certain amount of anonymity. There are times when we want to know everything about a musician we enjoy, shading the vivid picture formed in our heads every time we listen, but at other times we might prefer ignorance. Everything about Youth Lagoon’s music, and Heaven Is A Junkyard specifically, points toward the latter. Just look at Powers and his incredibly distinct singing voice; there are any number of circuitous paths I could take to capturing his work as a vocalist—a young boy trapped at the bottom of a well, an extraterrestrial learning a nursery rhyme, a mid-morning cry through the mouth of the family parrot. None would fully do it justice. Put into practice, this can be mesmerizing, as it is on standout single “Prizefighter,” which sees Powers vibrate between sheepish talk-singing and a bursting, almost ghostly warble. Then there are the layered vocals of “Trapeze Artist,” a rising tide that lifts the song to dizzying heights. It’s this kind of otherworldliness that makes imagining a real person behind the voice less rewarding than simply embracing the mystery behind it all. This could be the work of a young, well-bound alien parroting humanity, and that’s fine. 

This instinct extends to the whole of Heaven Is A Junkyard as well. This is an incredibly evocative record, from the haunting piano ballad “The Sling” to the trip-hop choir of “Trapeze Artist” to the disjointed narrative flow of “Idaho Alien.” You can learn that these songs are about, as Powers tells us, “brothers leaving for war, drunk fathers learning to hug, mothers falling in love, neighbors stealing mail, cowboys doing drugs,” and try to give them context, but the experience of listening to these songs compels you to forget about all that. The impressionistic nature of the lyrics seems intent on obscuring as much as possible; “I got a war that I can’t fight, I got the sunshine to figure me out”, “You spread that blood like butter, deep red sea,” “Can we walk the shadow right back? Can we walk together down the track?” These aren’t the words of simple narrative, and they work best when you don’t try to treat them as such. 

This is also some of the quietest, most restrained, nuanced work Powers has ever produced. Where the record starts to lose itself is when Powers shifts from the quiet melodrama of Heaven Is A Junkyard’s first half to the grander, more audacious attempts at big-tent pop that occur toward the album’s end. These aren’t failures so much as showcasing the difference between a song you might like the first time you hear it and the ones you’ll love upon the tenth. Even so, this is without a doubt the most consistent work of Powers’ career. Youth Lagoon is very much back, and Powers seems as free as ever. 

Label: Fat Possum

Year: 2023

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