Published on May 23rd, 2017 | by Kevin Krein0
Land of Talk: Life After Youth | Elizabeth Powell Making Music on Her Own Terms
It’s on the second track on the new Land of Talk album, Life After Youth, that Elizabeth Powell gives the most direct knowing wink that acknowledges her (as well as the band’s) mythology. “I don’t want to waste it this time,” she pleads during “This Time.” And here’s the thing—Powell didn’t exactly “waste” anything the first time around. The easy way of explaining it is that things just got to be too much for her.
Seven years is a long time for anyone or anything, but in the ever-moving world of contemporary popular music, seven years is a lifetime, especially for artists who are still attempting to establish themselves. Following through on the promise shown with Land of Talk’s debut EP Applause, Cheer, Boo, Hiss, the first full-length Some Are Lakes, and the astounding four track Fun and Laughter, Powell released the band’s second album, Cloak and Cipher, in the fall of 2010.
A difficult tour ensued, full of disappointing shows and financial worries that Powell carried on her shoulders.
Following the conclusion of the tour, Powell struggled with her own ongoing health issues (a vocal polyp), a computer crash that erased the demos for a new (possibly solo) album, and, at the start of 2013, a family emergency—her father suffered a stroke.
For the next two years, Powell went into a deep self-imposed exile away from music to care for her father, and almost all word of Land of Talk disappeared. The band’s web domain lapsed long before 2013, and social media accounts were deactivated. I, like many, presumed the band was finished and would slowly drift away into indie rock obscurity—a cult act loved by a select number of people who fondly look back.
During this time away, Powell began working at an Ontario coffee shop named Apple Annie’s, and it was there, in 2015, where she staged the first Land of Talk comeback—a stripped down performance during the city’s annual Roots North Music Festival. By 2016, the band’s social media presence had returned, with Powell providing mildly cryptic updates to the band’s Facebook page.
Given all the weight of the last seven years, it goes without saying that Life After Youth arrives as a) a welcome comeback for Powell and Land of Talk, as well as b) a meditation on navigating the seriousness of adulthood and what happens when you find a second chance.
Something that allegedly influenced the ten songs found here. However, upon unpacking the record, it is far less experimental or electronic in nature than one would be led to believe based on her comments, as well as the emotional, pulsating, and contemplative early single, “Inner Lover.”
The first three tracks, the brash “Yes You Were,” the triumph of the aforementioned “This Time,” and the slow burning and jittery single “Loving,” could all be tucked neatly in the spaces between the guitar-driven “indie rock” of Some Are Lakes, and the bombastically arranged, multi-layered Cloak and Cipher.
Following the first three songs, Powell slows the pacing down, perhaps intentionally, with a back-to-back shot of the album’s less successful tracks—the plodding “What Was I Thinking?” and “Spiritual Intimidation,” before it is given a jolt of energy with the jouncing, ramshackle “Heartcore”—it, much like “Yes You Were,” call back to the earliest Land of Talk material.
“Heartcore” ushers in Life After Youth’s second half, and even with the dirge-like “Inner Lover,” this portion of the record seems to strike a better balance, moving along a lot faster, arriving (somewhat unceremoniously) at its final track.
The pensive “Inner Lover” is also the album’s most experimental in nature; however, it doesn’t feel out of place. There’s enough synthesizer work incorporated throughout the rest of the record to make it feel surprisingly at home, situated within the second half.
“Pensive” is an emotion that Powell returns to time and time again on Life After Youth—and it appears in myriad forms. You can hear echoes of it in “Inner Lover,” and throughout the album’s first half; in the final three songs, you can hear it in the somber and off-kilter “In Florida,” in the pleading habdabs of “World Made,” and in the downcast guitar strums of the album’s closing track, “Macabre”—unassuming in nature, and a bit of a far cry from the “destined to be the closer” songs Powell has written in the past (e.g. “Better and Closer,” and “A Series of Small Flames.”)
At the time of its release, Cloak and Cipher was a “big” statement for Powell as an artist, but maybe over the course of the last seven years, she’s decided there’s no sizable statement that needs to be made.
Like any artist that does something impressive and then goes away for a really long time (Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo, My Bloody Valentine, et. al) Powell doesn’t owe us (the listeners) anything; she didn’t have to return to music at all, though I am among the many that are relieved that she did.
While a record like Some Are Lakes had something to prove, and Cloak and Cipher fulfilled the promise and potential that Powell had showed all along—here, there are literally no stakes, and it resonates throughout.
Life After Youth is Elizabeth Powell’s return to music, and making it on her own terms.
It’s both an intently personal and possibly self-aware album, as well as one shrouded in slight mystery and reserve, and my concern is that, because the stakes are non-existent in her return, the compelling backstory of Powell’s self-imposed exile will overshadow the music found within these ten songs.
In the early days of 2013, when I was just starting out as an internet music writer, and looking to write about things outside of reviewing albums, one of the first “thinkpieces” I took on was something about Land of Talk. In it, I recalled going to see the band on the Cloak and Cipher tour in the fall of 2010, and I relayed this anecdote: as Powell and the band filed back on stage for the encore, she began taking song suggestions from the crowd. My friend Chris and I were in the front row, and we both shouted out, “A SERIES OF SMALL FLAMES.” Powell laughed nervously at the mere idea of it—“I can’t play that song,” she said. “I’ll explode.”
I closed out the piece by imploring that if Powell had a vanity alert set up for herself, and happened upon what I had written, that she should let people know what had happened to her, as well as the band.
“If you are reading this,” I wrote as the final line. “I hope that you haven’t exploded.”
45 comments and over 7,000 page views later, I found that I wasn’t the only person touched by Land of Talk, and that I wasn’t the only one wondering what happened to her.
It seems that Powell did explode, but over time, she was able to put herself back together again, and Life After Youth is the result of that rebuilding. A cathartic experience for her, it, strangely enough, isn’t as immediate or urgent of a listen as her previous LPs or the Fun and Laughter EP.
Life After Youth doesn’t overstay its welcome.
A lean ten tracks, it moves along rather quickly, especially in the second half. And despite the lack of immediacy, it is an album that reveals itself to you through subsequent listens—where you can begin to appreciate how impressive of a hook-driven songwriter Powell has remained in her time away.
Who knows what happens next? Will Powell use this second chance, and continue on with Land of Talk for another record in the future? Maybe she doesn’t even know the answer to that. Life After Youth is the result of an artist still having something to say, and I think we owe it to her to listen carefully.
Rating: 4 out of 5