A patchwork of field recordings, piano melodies, and delicate electronic brushstrokes...

When looking back at Trevor Powers’ back catalogue it’s hard to work out how he has arrived at the release of his second solo album ‘Capricorn’.

A decade ago, Powers emerged from the Boise underground as Youth Lagoon. The music he created under this moniker was neo-psychedelic lo-fi dream-pop. While it wasn’t my favourite music of that period it definitely made an impression on me as I can remember where I was when I first heard ‘Year Of Hibernation’ (my friend Sam’s on a Friday night after the pubs shut, to be exact).

After releasing another two solid albums (2013's ‘Wondrous Bughouse’ and 2015's ‘Savage Hills Ballroom’) Powers called a day on the project in 2016 to focus on something else. That something else turned out to be his 2018 debut solo album ‘Mulberry Violence’. The sonic difference between ‘Savage Hill Ballroom’ and ‘Mulberry Violence’ was striking. Gone were the neon poppy vibes. In their place were stark, brutal, synths and barbarous beats.

New album ‘Capricorn’ consists of eight instrumental songs. The machine-like beats have been stripped away, in fact ‘Capricorn’ is relatively beatless. In their place are tender piano runs. At their heart, the songs are a patchwork of field recordings, piano melodies, and delicate electronic brushstrokes. As Powers says: “I wanted to make something that felt as peaceful as it was haunting.”

After listening to the album, a lot of Powers has definitely succeeded in his aim. The field recordings are a mixture of natural sounds, rain, insects but also the sound of planes and motorways. This juxtaposition, next to the serene piano, gives the album an almost alien, or otherworldly, quality.

The songs that seem to encapsulate this are ‘The Riverine’ and ‘2166’. ‘The Riverine’ opens with cascading melodies that feel like they are being played at slightly the wrong speed. While you are getting used to this, diaphanous synths billow about, like dandelion seeds caught on an up breeze. As they gracefully float about, the music slowly morphs into a slightly more abrasive affair. Instead of sounding jarring it matches the Vangelis-esque piano perfectly. Powers’ adds enough bite to remind us that despite his new gossamer aesthetic he’s still the same guy who released ‘Mulberry Violence’.

The album closes with ‘2166’. Opening with a tender piano that has been wrapped up on a fuzzy bubble of gently distorting feedback. There is a filmic quality to ‘2166’, as there is to most of ‘Capricorn’. This conjures up a scene with the lead in a sci-fi film has battled, and out witted, his foes to find himself a few moments of xxx with his love interest. As they make plans for the final showdown, and where to meet after, the fuzz gets more pronounced and frequent. The scene ends with the lead walking down a darkened corridor, with flickering lights, to go and meet his fate as his love interest closely closes a door and readies their escape plan.

Or this could just be a series of wispy melodies and humming static. Either way the results offer an elegant ending to a transfixing album.

‘Capricorn’ is an album that show’s Powers’ growth as a songwriter. Despite the lack of lyrics this is the strongest album he has released to date. Whilst it sounds nothing like his previous four it is unmistakably Powers. It also feels like the truest reflection of his personality too. The use of organic and electronic sounds, sometimes going with each other, sometimes not, fits in with his world view that we are constantly in a trance-like state. That we think we are in control of our lives, when in fact we aren’t.

Ultimately when the dust settles on Powers’ career ‘Capricorn’ is the album he should be remembered for. At times ‘Capricorn’ feels like a 2020 version of Vangelis’ 1972 Vangelis album ‘Fais que ton rêve soit plus long que la nuit’ where he recorded the sounds of the 1968 Paris Riots and added his gentle piano motifs. It is an incredibly brave album filled with glorious melodies along with nooks and crannies filled with inventive sounds and textures. 'Capricorn' is an album that continues to be refreshing even after a few dozen listens.

8/10

Words: Nick Roseblade

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