In 2010, Elizabeth Powell’s career was on fire. Her sophomore release under the moniker Land of Talk—which featured members of Arcade Fire and Stars no less—was garnering critical acclaim, eventually being longlisted for the 2011 Polaris Prize, Canada’s album of the year award. The venues were getting bigger and bigger for the onetime Broken Social Scene member, riding the wave as indie rock was reaching peak popularity.
But then tragedy struck. Not only did her hard drive crash and with it, all of her demos, Powell’s father had a stroke on New Year’s Day 2013. Overnight, Powell went from performing on some of North America’s most important stages to becoming a full-time caregiver. For all intents and purposes, her music career seemed over.
After years of silence, Powell reemerged for a one-off show in 2015 and then a short run of East Coast dates in 2016. New music seemed imminent. And when she started rolling out the first singles from her long awaited third album, the perfectly titled Life After Youth, Powell seemed rejuvenated; in each word she sings, you can hear how much she’s suffered for this project. When she croons, “I don’t want to waste it this time,” on “This Time,” you better believe she did her best not to.
The end result is a heartfelt indie pop record that is simultaneously one of the catchiest summer albums of the year to date and also one of its most heartbreaking and self-aware. Take “Loving” for example: the driving yet gentle guitar riffs recall the best road trip or BBQ songs, easy to zone out to and bob your head along with. But on second, third and fourth listens—something this album absolutely deserves—the track becomes a heartbroken and battle-tested anthem; Powell pleads to maybe her father, her listeners, or quite possibly herself to keep pursuing, as tough as life can get. “It’s gonna get worse” she sings, but later adds, “life’s not long, why don’t you live it,” just before launching into a cathartic guitar solo.
But from time to time, Powell drops her sunny and jangly front to reveal much rawer, vulnerable emotions. On “Inner Lover,” she loses the guitars altogether. Over a warm, yet tired synth line and a simple drumbeat, Powell begs for someone to “take care of me” and a little later to also “bring sound sleep.” She’s frustrated, her voice weary and close to giving up and just barely able to keep going through the end of the song, but just as she managed to persevere through the last seven years, she makes it to the finish line. “Inner Lover” is the emotional core of Life After Youth, an album that wavers between surface-level self-doubt and under-the-surface self-confidence.
With almost every track featuring very direct first person, Life After Youth is an extremely personal collection from Powell, but with some help from her friends and collaborators Sharon Van Etten, The Besnard Lakes, Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) and Sal Maida (Roxy Music/Sparks), she has not only made the best record of her career, it’s also one of the strongest solo releases from any past or present Broken Social Scene members. Powell, now in her late thirties, may not be the same young musician that captured our hearts in 2008 with her Justin Vernon-produced debut, but she’s much wiser and more clever now, ensuring that she uses every bit of her ten new tracks to make up for lost time. While her voice retreats into an exposed and wavering falsetto at times throughout Life After Youth, she’s deadly confident when she sings, “I don’t want to waste it this time.” She definitely didn’t.