Artist: Local Natives
Album: Sunlit Youth
Label: Loma Vista Recordings
Local Natives’ third album, Sunlit Youth, teeters between going in a truly new direction and making a smooth, radio-friendly album that seems to be in line with the progression of other L.A. indie rock bands such as Young The Giant and Cold War Kids. To be fair their previous album Hummingbird felt maximal, pushing their sound far and not leaving much room to make a new album without heading in a fairly new direction.
The direction chosen by Local Natives is synth driven and has an 80s feel mixed with the percussion they’re known for. At first is felt like a fairly new Local Natives but hidden behind the synth and sheen is what we know them for. On the opener “Villainy” we see them more embrace the synth and a simple back beat. This opening track lets the listener know to be in for something weird, with two different vocalists each having a verse plus a brief spoken word in the bridge. “Villainy” is the second released single. I view it as one of the stronger tracks and a decent opener. Next is “Past Lives”, the lead single and strongest piece on the album that’s about how, according to frontman Taylor Rice, “our world is not fixed, it’s constantly reemerging, and we can change it into whatever we want.” The primary theme of Sunlit Youth is that change is possible and that we can make it happen. This also ties in another major theme in the album: politics.
Politics though don’t seem to appear clearly or jump out until the fourth track, “Fountain of Youth.” Before that though is “Dark Days,” a duet with The Cardigan’s Nina Persson. It has a grooving baseline that sounds similar to the one on Coldplay’s “Adventure of a Lifetime.” Instead though of routine drum beat, drummer Matt Frazier gives it a nice percussive groove. One of the band’s strengths has always been Frazier’s rhythmic drumming that’s sometimes combined with extra help on percussion from bandmate Kelcey Ayer. As the album gets to “Fountain of Youth”, the politics are clear, mentioning Hillary Clinton by Mrs. President, saying “we have waited so long.” The other clear cut political track is the eighth, “Mother Emmanuel,” about the shooting of nine parishioners in a historically black church in Charleston, SC. The politics of Sunlit Youth are clearly liberal but also feel vague. There’s call for change, but nothing itself that truly makes you want to drive to change society.
The lyrics of Local Natives have never been their strength, and that’s clear on Sunlit Youth. Outside of the lyrics though, as the album progresses, the lessons learned of their previous records shine through. One standout is Psycho Lovers, which to me is where Local Natives should have gone, something not entirely the same, but something not as adventurous. Then again, safe records can typically be boring and bands should try to push themselves into new creative areas. As a fan I wasn’t thrilled, but I’m also happy they didn’t try to pigeonhole themselves into the styles of previous records.
As a whole, this album is best summed up in a line from “Past Lives”: “Save me from the prime of my life.” Local Natives are on their third album and are in their prime, but they seem to shy away from it here, which leads to a slightly-above average instead of a great one that I was hoping for.