The former Youth Lagoon songwriter’s second album under his own name is almost wordless, a quest for ego death that explores the beauty of the natural world with a lingering disquiet.
In 2016, after six years performing under the name Youth Lagoon, Trevor Powers said goodbye. He sought greater artistic freedom: After finding success making intimate bedroom pop about anxiety and isolation, Powers felt his vision had become constricted. “It’s odd to realize that something you’ve created can have the power of wrapping a leash around your neck & holding you hostage,” he wrote in a note to fans at the time.
But freedom is an illusion we all learn to concede to in one way or another. After a severe panic attack, Powers decamped to a cabin with a piano located at the foot of Idaho’s Sawtooth mountain range to reset. Accompanied by his instruments, a computer, and recording gear, Powers encapsulated this time in an album he titled Capricorn. While 2018’s Mulberry Violence, Powers’ first foray into making music under his own name,** **leaned into discord as a means of self-obliteration, Capricorn is a measured, expressive experiment in erasure.
Minus a few distorted samples, Capricorn removes Powers’ voice from the equation and allows his skills as a sculptor of sound to shine. While Powers’ early work is sometimes lumped in with the tail end of chillwave, his sense of depth and texture was always more ambitious, characteristics on full display here. Like a heavily tattooed modern-day Thoreau, he sprinkles the record with recordings of raindrops, streams, and thunderstorms, reminders of the symphony that the natural world offers us for free. But for the most part Powers distorts these details until they lose their organic quality, the way a cricket chirping in slow motion sounds more like a computer than an insect.
Capricorn unfolds slowly, creating a surface calm. Nothing here feels rushed, nor overly polished. “Earth to Earth” emits a haze of textured synths and bird calls, while “The Riverine” contains tinges of pedal steel, evoking rolling hills misted with dew. The spectral beginnings of “A New Name” slowly give way to a warped sample of a voice seemingly repeating the word “body.” The mind is encouraged to wander.
But there’s an undercurrent of eeriness to Capricorn, as if at any moment the tranquility could slip to reveal a nightmare. Sometimes these lines are obvious, as on “The Riverine” and “Blue Savior,” each briefly punctured by mournful, bluesy horns. The serene opener “First Rain” is suddenly interrupted by a garbled voice and a chiming bell that sounds like a train barreling through the night; the song picks up again like nothing happened, but the sensation lingers.
A pair of ominous closing tracks do little to inspire a sense of resolve. “Pest” begins with a symphonic array of woodwinds that suddenly burst into sharp, menacing squawks. The song builds on the sense of unease, ratcheting up tension until it could soundtrack some poor soul’s untimely demise. “2166” is unsettling in a different way, pairing a fuzzy, melancholic piano melody with a noirish sax drone. Musically, Powers appears to be on a quest towards ego death, willing to tear everything apart in order to rebuild. Capricorn invites us to disappear with him.
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