Release Date: Sep 9, 2016
Record label: Loma Vista Recordings
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Pop
“I want to start again.” As opening lines go, that’s pretty direct. As statements of intent go though, that’s something of a gauntlet to throw down. But three-and-a-half years on from Hummingbird, it’s the right move for Local Natives to make. Where that album was - in both the making and the listening - heavy, emotionally shattering and, eventually, beautifully cathartic, from the title down Sunlit Youth is about what happens when you throw the curtains wide again.
Local Natives’ journey between 2013’s ‘Hummingbird’ and today has been one defined by self-reflection. Having made a significant statement with their breakthrough debut ‘Gorilla Manor’ at the turn of the decade, the growth that we saw in the form of ‘Hummingbird’ was nothing if not logical. Comparisons to contemporaries were commonplace, with parallels to the likes of Fleet Foxes and The National no doubt fuelled by the latter’s Aaron Dessner producing Natives’ second LP.
Local Natives' sophomore LP, 2013's Hummingbird, took a moderately darker, more atmospheric turn, reflecting a period of personal loss for the group. Things are looking up on their follow-up, Sunlit Youth. The band's typically detailed arrangements, often noted for their multi-part harmonies and Afro-pop rhythms, get a boost from electronics here that's apparent from track one, "Villainy." A slice of pure synth pop led by shimmering textures and mechanical drums, its vocal harmonies and wafting melody still mark it theirs, as do the song's evolving rhythms.
Over six years and two albums, L.A.'s Local Natives have consistently churned out catchy indie rock tracks with an ear for the anthemic. On their third LP, Sunlit Youth, the quintet dip their toes into a more experimental sound without falling off the deep-end, making for a satisfying if not completely riveting listen.The band's new bells and whistles are immediately demonstrated on opener "Villainy," which features bubbling synths and drum machine behind singer/guitarist Taylor Wise's trademark wail. Even more daring is "Coins," a taut, brash funk cut that's unlike anything else on the record.These little experimentations are welcome additions to Local Natives' trademark sound, which otherwise remains largely intact here.
At some point in the ‘00s, adding electronica became the go-to gambit for indie bands looking to progress their sound. There’s not always a great deal of lateral thinking to it. Don’t want to be accused of stagnation? Write your songs, add some synthesizers, and no one can say you didn’t at least try. Establishing themselves as a premier purveyor of widescreen baroque pop on Gorilla Manor (2009) and Hummingbird (2013), Local Natives have felt the tug at their heels.
Between their 2010 debut Gorilla Manor and 2013’s Hummingbird, Local Natives garnered a reputation in the indie landscape: dependable, gratifying, though not the most innovative. On Gorilla Manor, their cinematic emotions and soaring harmonies referenced the National’s slow-burning sweep and Fleet Foxes’ wide-eyed, bucolic tumble. With Hummingbird, Local Natives grew up with a more meditative album that dealt with the death of vocalist/keyboardist Kelcey Ayer’s mother.
As suggested by its title, Local Natives’ third album finds the Los Angeles five-piece in a happier place than they were for 2013’s despair-tinged Hummingbird. Unfortunately, it makes for less absorbing listening. The change isn’t just in tone: where once they were in thrall to Fleet Foxes and the National, their newly emphasised polite euphoria (“We can do whatever we want!” sings Kelcey Ayer on Fountain of Youth) is too frequently backed by Coldplay-esque stadium indie, albeit with less predictable rhythms.
Local Natives have, whether through intentional effort or not, established themselves as the go-to band of inoffensive but charming West Coast indie rock. With a debut that shone with the wide-eyed excitement of a band experiencing first album praise and a touring lifestyle, to a polar opposite sophomore effort that dealt with loss and heartbreak, Local Natives are a band unafraid to let you know exactly what they are feeling. After a brief year-long period of radio silence, Sunlit Youth is the LA quintet's attempt to find out what is next.
Six years ago, Silver Lake residents Local Natives won hearts around the world with immediately gratifying and saccharine-sweet songs; debut Gorilla Manor defined the band’s sound, condensing charming hooks with open-mouthed harmonies and a busy but delicate rhythmic force. For 2013’s follow up Hummingbird, there was a subtle but discernible shift. Whilst stunning in its own right, its appeal was less instant, making more use of build-ups and layering, and on the whole haunted by feelings of grief.
With 2010 debut Gorilla Manor, Local Natives served immediately palatable, but undeniably expansive rock. The Silver Lake fivepiece has pressed its boundaries and challenged its audiences since, a trend that continues on third LP Sunlit Youth. There's so much to recognize as distinctly Local Natives: the climbing, upper-fret guitar lines punctuating "Past Lives," the tribal drumming on "Dark Days," and warm harmonies throughout the album.
After releasing two impressive yet very different albums, the boys of Local Natives faced a crossroads on Sunlit Youth. They could have reverted to the largely cloudless, year-round summer of Gorilla Manor or honed the somber sound of Hummingbird. Instead they chose a more difficult road, tiptoeing the line between their past works while incorporating shades of mainstream indie rock, doing so with minimal missteps.