Support for the return of Land Of Talk has been passionate and widespread from the outset. NPR Music’s All Songs Considered premiered Life After Youth’s stirring first single ‘Inner Lover’; New York Magazine Vulture named the single ‘This Time’ a Best New Song; ‘Loving’ was added to high rotation on FBI Radio; and LENNY Letter premiered the most recent track ‘Heartcore’. The last week has also seen Double J here in Australia premiering songs from the record as the station’s feature album, while NPR gave Life After Youth a prestigious First Listen placing.
Produced and mixed by John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth) and Jace Lasek (Besnard Lakes), and featuring Sharon Van Etten, Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth), Sal Maida (Roxy Music/Sparks), and The Besnard Lakes, the album is a collection of songs that sees Powell in the finest voice of her career, and reuniting with original Land of Talk drummer Bucky Wheaton. Life After Youth is a set of songs that got Powell through tough times. And now, they can do the same for you. Since forming Land of Talk in 2006, the one certainty in Powell’s life has been uncertainty, as her band has gone from being one of Montreal’s most brash, buzzy indie rock acts to one of its most elusive and enigmatic. After recording Land of Talk’s debut EP, Applause Cheer Boo Hiss, she lost her drummer (the first in what would become a semi-regular pattern of lineup changes). After releasing Land of Talk’s first full-length record produced by Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Some Are Lakes (2008), she lost her voice. And after the release of the “breakthrough” (SPIN) Cloak and Cipher LP (2010), Powell lost her will.
Powell knew she needed a break from the album/tour/album/tour cycle after Cloak and Cipher’s release — she just didn’t plan on it becoming a full-blown hiatus. In 2011, she left Montreal behind and retreated to her grandparents’ cottage near Lake Couchiching, ON to write only to see all her work lost when her laptop irreparably crashed, taking all her demos down with it. The combination of post-tour fatigue and the demoralising loss of her new material brought her to a dead stop.
After settling back into her hometown of Orillia, ON, Powell was dealt an even more devastating blow on New Year’s Day 2013: her father suffered a stroke. All of her energies went toward caring for him, but in her darkest hour, the elder Powell provided Elizabeth with a guiding light. “I was visiting him in the hospital,” she recalls, “and he just said, ‘Come on, can you just do this now? Can you just get back to music?’” She went home and wrote “This Time,” the song that ultimately served as the impetus for and thematic focus of for a new Land of Talk record. It’s the sound of Powell unleashing the sort of do-or-die ardor that only comes when a life-altering event forces you to stare mortality in the face.
If Life After Youth recreates the same conditions and recruits much of the same personnel that produced Land of Talk’s scrappy debut EP, the end result is dramatically different than anything the band has attempted before. While caring for her father, Powell fell under the spell of classical, ambient, and Japanese tonkori music, whose meditative quality aided his recovery. Immersing herself in those sounds would change her entire approach to music making; she started writing songs without her trusty guitar, instead building tracks up from synth beds and programmed loops (‘Inner Lover’ presents the most radical results of those experiments).
From Montreal to Orillia to Toronto to New Jersey (where she recorded with Agnello) and back to Montreal again, the story of Life After Youth resembles one of those Raiders of the Lost Ark maps with the red routing lines bouncing back and forth into a blur- “which is kind of like what my brain is like,” Powell says with a laugh. But from that mental and geographic scramble, a work of great focus and clarity has emerged. To paraphrase the late David Bowie, it’s been seven years, and Powell’s brain hurt a lot. But she stands today as the patient-zero case study for Life After Youth’s therapeutic powers.