Trevor Powers - Mulberry Violence

by Joseph Trotman Rating:7 Release Date:2018-08-17
Trevor Powers - Mulberry Violence
Trevor Powers - Mulberry Violence

In 2016 Trevor Powers retired his project Youth Lagoon after three reasonably well-received albums. Essentially a solo endeavour, he wasn't exactly citing irreconcilable differences. The moniker, he claimed, and the body of work he had created under it, had become creative inhibitions in and of themselves. Two years later, Powers has unveiled his "debut" album under his birthname, a record that shelves the indie rock and bedroom chamber pop he achieved his initial success with in favour of more abrasive electronic elements. I'm probably projecting, but to me this shift, replete as it is with oblique accompanying press material including shots of a shirtless and heavily tattooed Powers smacks as much of an edgy rebrand as it does an artistic reinvention, an attempt to avoid playing into perceptions that he's a bit milquetoast and side-step the potential path of an indie rock also-ran. Accordingly, there are moments on the resultant album where you get a sense that Powers is almost trying a bit too hard not to repeat himself. But there is also an impressive amount of sheer talent on display in "Mulberry Violence" that makes good on a lot of its risks.

The album's overall aesthetic feels rooted in the splintering, concussive production style of Arca circa "Yeezus" that has become proliferate over the last few years. While Powers' may not be dealing in anything shockingly new at this point, he is a very capable sculptor of sound, often showing himself to be an adept arranger of the crystalline textures he has chosen to work with. In his hands, it's interesting to hear these modern production techniques ease into a phase beyond being cutting edge to become an established part of an electronic pop lexicon.

In fact, on this record Powers does a more interesting job of balancing this style with the desire to express himself vocally than Arca did on his most recent album. The singing is foregrounded throughout "Mulberry Violence", albeit nearly always through some heavy processing. These vocal effects provide for a lot of excellent, mutated hooks. However, they also render most of the lyrics unintelligible. That's not inherently a bad thing, but this album has a lot of downbeat songs on it that cover a lot of the same sweeping, melancholic ground tonally. The constancy of the vocals being treated like they were yet more synthesizers contributes to making them feel a bit samey in terms of mood despite Powers' best efforts to introduce fresh textural elements in each track. The album's best cuts are its most propulsive; the industrial flavoured "Film It All" and the heavy but playful bass-bounce of "Ache".

In the lead-up to recording these songs, Powers took "crash courses" in classical theory, jazz and ancient modes, and this scholastic approach to songwriting is evident on his album for better and worse. The production is basically immaculate, in terms of basic sonics it's really impressive. Everything sounds amazing. But there's also a sense that a few too many of Powers' decisions were made with his head over his heart. Opening track "XTQ Idol" starts incredibly strongly with an eerie, tribaleque scream-sung vocal motif, but it has a superfluous minute-long coda, and its followed by "Dicegame", one of the slower album tracks that kills any momentum that a harder-edged song could have built. There are showy production tics and unearned moments of melancholy that stop things just short of coalescing into a compelling album. With that said, on a song-for-song basis, its ideas are as good as anything going right now and in smaller doses, the album's flaws start to disappear.

Rather than release promotional singles, Powers' released many of these songs as "couplets", two-song digital releases to acclimatise listeners to his new sonic terrain. I think he could have served this material better had he gone further with that idea and had those couplets function as individual releases in their own right rather than package them all on an album that's often beguiling, but utimately a bit hard to digest.

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