Local Natives have always used their remarkable skill in capturing the smallest, most precious parts of the human experience and placing them on an enamored pedestal, beautifully indulging in them through thoughtful lyrics and intricate, bittersweet instrumentals. Over the years, that unique skill has evolved along with their sound, considering the youthful, rambunctious naiveté of their debut album Gorilla Manor, as well as the darker, more introspective Hummingbird, where the Los Angeles quintet operate loosely within the realm of baroque indie pop. It was clear since then that the band would take a different approach in their later work, as each member grew physically as well as emotionally. In Sunlit Youth, Local Natives’ third album, the synths come out to play, and expresses a side of the band that is no longer afraid of the unknown.
The very first line you hear when listening to opener “Villainy” is frontman Taylor Rice unapologetically shouting into the void, screaming “I want to start again” in the midst of glittering, pulsating synth. It can be taken literally as well as within the context of the song itself, taking into account the grueling years of introspection and personal growth the band went through since before the beginnings of their sophomore album. It bleeds effortlessly into “Past Lives,” a euphoric, brightly colored ballad where Rice inflates and stretches his vocals, again surrounded with a wall of fervid instrumentals. This new, confident attitude is something brand new for the quintet, something that hasn’t been put on display as much as their impressive skills in crafting such complex, delicate sounds or their impressive lyrical prowess. It’s heard consistently throughout the album, emerging beautifully in “Fountain of Youth,” a statement on current affairs filled with emotion and trust for the emerging generation, and even in both “Psycho Lovers” and “Mother Emmanuel,” where drums and bass run rampant. However, the inclusion of synth to this extent is also completely new for Local Natives, and that lack of experience shows through in a handful of tracks. It sounds messy and convoluted in “Masters” and undesirably murky in attempting to achieve that deep, mysterious sound in “Jellyfish.” There are even areas where it just feels overproduced, sacrificing warmth and emotion for thick, brooding beats. It’s frustrating more than anything else, considering that the lyrics found throughout the album are beautifully written and the vocal performances are on par with anything else the band has ever done, just presented inside an ill-fitting instrumental outfit. However, “Coins” seems to be the outlier that goes beyond this perception and becomes an experimental masterpiece, the stunning centerpiece being Rice’s stunning sighs.
Hummingbird is an album I will always hold in extremely high regard due to its sense of immediacy. When it was released in 2013, it was during a point in my life where I was starting to take more notice of myself and the world around me, and each track within the album just made sense. It didn’t have to explain itself, and as it played it was almost like a continuous stream of consciousness, painfully and beautifully tinged with deep, understood emotion. I began to equate its subtle, delicate flourishes with Local Natives themselves. In a sense, that still exists with this newer, brighter persona, only emerging from a group that has become happier and less afraid, which doesn’t seem right to fault. Sunlit Youth, at its core, remains a solid, emotional album for the quintet, one that basks in the light after being hidden in the darkness for so long.
photo by Renata Raksha