March 27th, 2012
It’s a little bit sad. You get to a certain age and successful artists, athletes, and performers you take an interest in end up being significantly younger than you are. Trevor Powers is 22 and his debut, The Year of Hibernation, came out in September of last year on Fat Possum. It’s a beautiful, eerie and dreamy pop confection powered primarily by his electric organ, big, fat synthetic beats, and the hunched-in-passion guitar-playing Dean Wareham.
1. The sound was great. The bass of the beats and processed rhythms they employ rumbled the ground. It shook your feet in the back of the house. There were only two men on stage creating a big sound from a guitar, a keyboard and some beats. And the beats are a defining characteristic of this music. It’d be fairly bland if it was just these two guys playing a guitar and keys. The beats make this band and this record stand out.
2. It’s a little hard to find discernible differences from track to track. The lyrics and vocals are tough to distinguish. And because the whole effort is so awash in feedback at high volumes, it makes understanding Powers’ words all the more challenging. What becomes distinguishable is the beat or the opening keyboard melody.
3. He has a powerful voice. No question. Although, it’s unavoidable, his voice is a touch on the weird side. He channels some of indie rock’s most polarizing singers: John Darnielle from the Mountain Goats, Jeff Magnum of Neutral Milk Hotel, Kristian Matsson from The Tallest Man on Earth, or even Rufus Wainwright. It is haunting in its piercing strength. It manages to gracefully make its way through the murk of beats, electronic keys and echoing guitar. There were definitely some moments where a wince wouldn’t be out of place, due to his voice, but only when he really screamed or held a note for long breaths.
4. In the way that a beat can distinguish a song, in the first few bars of a song one dude leaned over to his dude friend and dude friend’s girlfriend and said “This is my jam.” After much reviewing of the stuttering, climactic beat introductions from The Year of Hibernation, he was talking about “Afternoon,” which is totally a catchy jam.
5. The crowd was essentially mesmerized and still. The most amount of movement came from neck bobs. This is not music to rock out to. This is music to be stoned to. And plenty of references were made to being drunk and stoned by the musician himself and the crowd. “Why are you guys so calm?” he asked. “We’re stoned!” someone near the stage responded. At one point someone let out a “Wooo!” from the back of the room during a quiet moment; it felt genuine and enthusiastic, but also awkward.
6. “Posters,” the album opener, came up later in the set. It has a slow and steady funk beat that comes in over a sweet and friendly guitar line. The keys part simplifies as the beat takes over the song. It’s in this song that I realize how much they must owe to Ratatat. They were combining gritty and dance-friendly beats over a seemingly discordant mix of instrumentation years ago. But it works for both bands in their own way.
7. He played a song without the guitar part (and without a beat) that was somber, quiet and, sure, powerful. It just didn’t have the appeal that the rest of the set had. The band’s sound seems to work best when it has a powerful crescendo that involves a beat, a guitar part and a howl from Powers. When all those things align, they actually approach a sound that drips of punk-flavored raw energy. Furthermore, it’s worth wondering: what would they sound like with a live drummer?
8. More jokes were exchanged about drugs. PBR was mentioned in the audience and Powers saluted those who love PBR, because he does, too, it seems. “What’re you guys doing after the show?” he asked. “Getting high? I always feel like the teacher that everyone hated.” Said the 22-year old talking to a sea of 20-something stoners.
9. His last song was “17,” a beautiful slow-burn with one of the album’s gentlest vocals. “We were all having fun,” is barely understood before the gorgeous, meandering organ sound takes you on a roller coaster of gorgeous climbs and leaps before the beat’s even introduced.
10. Standard for the night were plaid shirts and desert boots. For both sexes. They were everywhere.