Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Youth Lagoon – The Barbican, London 20/07/13

23 July 2013, 15:50 | Written by Sam Briggs

“Headphone artist”: sensitive appreciation of the textures possible in introspective production, or backhanded limiting of their potential success. Whatever your translation, it’s a term that Trevor Powers, better known as frizzy haired thinker Youth Lagoon, has been tarred, or titled with.

Sonically, however, there is little qualm with its suitability in the context of his richly rendered, atmospheric visions, their luminescent glow even more overwhelming in an intimate context. Then again, sitting alone in your bedroom probably isn’t conducive to cracking out ten ‘Don’t Look Back in Angers.’

On the back of a string of Northern dates, Powers tonight finds himself supporting the dark, mystical, and downright bonkers folk-tronic pop of CocoRosie. Although plagued by some of the issues that often befall the opening slot at the Barbican – the slightly muted, fully seated crowd, and criminally early 7:30 kick-off that results in a half full crowd, augmented by a constant file of people shuffling to their seats in the darkness – others make the venue seem a pretty natural habitat. The combination of zero chattering, and perfectly tailored sound, gives the intricate detail Powers daubs on record a suitable space to flourish outside the front door.

It’s a step already taken, however. With Wondrous Bughouse, Powers was already expanding his horizons, adding live drums, and a bolder conviction in his songwriting chops. It’s a shift that tonight’s first sung line, placed as on the album after moody instrumental ‘Through Mind and Back’, pushes towards: “living in a 3-D world”. As the computer’s fourth wall is broken, Powers finds a new scale to his sonic capabilities.

The real success of his live show is his canny knack for bringing to each album the strengths that the other thrilled with. To the hushed timidity of the charming, intimate The Year of Hibernation is brought the panorama of its sophomore. The effect is thrillingly complimentary, rather than contradictory. Tracks like ‘July’ swell from being merely a tightly bound ball of beauty into a new, subtle majesty, without losing the crackly, homemade feel of the original.

Although the contributions from all 3 and a half hirsute gents (the drummer looked like he might have had a trim this decade) add to the fluid, haunting haze of the band’s sound, Powers is the undoubted leader. Wielding a minimum of two keyboards at a time, his octopus-inspired limb movements allow a depth of sound to accumulate, with a weighty bass packing a muscle below the flanged treble above it. Where the wash engulfing him smacks of spaced-out psychedelic pleasure, his melodies are sharp, and instantly catchy. His distinctive, nasal sneer mixes with a touch for poetically pithy explorations of weighty concerns (first album inspired by psychological dysmorphia, second by celestial musings on mortality), to create a feel of naïve simplicity.

The sense of curious, wide-eyed childishness makes any grandeur feel easily digestible, and in the hands of this endearing frontman, the warm sense of shy solidarity is infectious. There’s no ’17′, to the disappointment of some audience members – but on the basis of tonight, it might be the product of a nostalgia since transcended.

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