On Local Natives‘ third full-length effort, we see the five-piece opting to stay consistent with their sound on their 12-track offering of harmony-rich, up-beat indie-rock. Sunlit Youth follows their sophomore album Hummingbird (2013), a release that saw the band grapple darker themes and question whether their future material would resemble a recovery. In Sunlit Youth, Local Natives have successfully created a more affirmative record- an ambition that drove the band throughout the recording process.
Opening track “Villainy” sets up this hopeful vibe strongest, spiritedly declaring “I want to start again,” in a flourishing, synth-pop fashion. We revisit this theme of optimism and possible enlightenment with official single “Fountain Of Youth”, with the blaring chorus “We can do whatever we want” declaring liberation and enforcing a sense of triumph absent on their previous release.
However looking at the album sonically, it’s most exciting (and dynamic) details are when the layers of guitars are almost fully stripped and we hear selective keys or synth trickle away independently. It makes for the most experimental moments on an otherwise uniform indie-rock album. Tracks like “Jellyfish” are a good example – soulful vocals over a minimalist beat accompanied by pretty keys and synth (that subconsciously evoke images of jellyfish to mind) make for a pleasantly curious listen.
This change in style comes midway through the record and manages to stretch into following track “Coins”. Led by a funk-driven beat and a hazy, swelling chorus, “Coins” is polished with the generous woo’s and ooh’s from vocalist Kelcey Ayers. It should be mentioned here that the richness of Ayers’ vocal performance is consistent throughout the record. It’s at the same time elegant and convicted, capable of electrifying the bigger pop-anthems like “Mother Emanuel” and “Sea Of Years” with ease.
Unfortunately, amongst the handful of stand-outs this record feels at times one-dimensional in composition and style. It’s easy to explain what influences Local Natives but tricky to define what distinguishes them from any other indie-rock band. This feels like an overly safe album that should have followed the road less travelled in an effort to expand, experiment and clarify the Local Natives sound. Perhaps Sunlit Youth fell short because it was too focused on compensating for the weight of Hummingbird (which dealt with the death of Kelcey’s mother), or maybe this is an extension of that healing process.
Review Score: 5.2 out of 10
Sunlit Youth is out now.