Exeposé Music online (10 September 2016)
Change. That’s what Local Natives want to get us all worked up about in their third studio album Sunlit Youth. And as the synth-y birth of Villainy kicks things off, it’s clear this quartet’s been through some pretty big changes since bringing their brand of Californian indie rock to Europe in 2010.
With a battle cry of “I wanna start again,” ‘Villainy’ launches us into a multi-layered electronic feast of syncopation, “aah-aah”-ing and bubbling melodies. There’s a certain Killers-esque vibe at times (ie. 14 seconds in), and a pop-like feel that’s almost disconcerting. But with a warning that “It takes a moment for your eyes to adjust / Step out into the sun,” there’s a hint that maybe, just maybe… this is all part of the plan.
Still, it feels like something’s missing. ‘Past Lives’ dawns cold and thin, dragging its feet in a way no track so close to an album’s beginning should. But a minute in, we’ve got our thrills. Aah, there it is; the pounding drum that lured us in with a sense of urgency when ‘Wide Eyes’ beat a rhythm into our chests back in 2010. That’s what’s in danger of fading here. The urgency. Pleasant guitar hooks and Nina Persson’s silky tones don’t do much to lift ‘Dark Days’ from what’s already seeming like a massive rut – although there’s no denying that Local Natives know how to craft a satisfying harmony.
‘Fountain of Youth’ is where things start to click into place, though. That urgency we’d been looking for in drum-beats? It’s not lost. It’s just a bit more sophisticated now. Well, ok: “We can do whatever we want” might be fairly transparent… but dig deeper and you’ve got a poignant acceptance of the need to relinquish control, run with change and trust it’ll lead you somewhere better. And don’t worry: this one’s pretty catchy too. Here’s your festival anthem in the making.
The revolutionary vibe carries on in ‘Masters’. “Are you afraid to call yourself a feminist?” we’re asked, before being told: “We’re all masters now.” That’s change, alright. Meanwhile ‘Jellyfish’ is – fittingly – hard to put a finger on, although “Love, I’m already ten steps ahead” makes you suspect there’s more to this wonderfully weird little number than meets the ear.
After all this drama, ‘Coins’ comes as a bit of a surprise. Smooth guitar and crooning vocals create a suspiciously mainstream-sounding melody. Soon we dip right back into Local Natives territory, though – it’s odd how quickly they’ve made that synthpop sound their own.
‘Mother Emanuel’ sets us right back on that demonstrative road. “Eyes the other way / Violence without cause…” Yep. There’s definitely something wrong with the world. Maybe it’s the “pain in youth” of ‘Ellie Alice’. Or the fact we’re all ‘Psycho Lovers’. Speaking of which: is ‘Everything All At Once’… a love song?! It’s certainly tempting to see it as one. But lines like “we can all be go-getters for a while” adds a wide lens to this potential serenade. There’s always a bigger picture in Sunlit Youth – yet as the deliciously dark ‘Sea of Years’ claims, it’s probably not a good one. Sure, it would’ve been nice to have a more optimistic album ending… but hey: we live in a broken world, kids.
Anyway, haven’t we heard enough by now to know Local Natives aren’t short on optimism? Sunlit Youth might be hard to love at times… but if there’s one thing this album does, it’s show us a hurting world and the need for change. And these guys are definitely prepared to change. Heck, they’re excited about it.
Sunlit Youth isn’t the naïve exploration of delicate melodies and twiddly drum rhythms that Gorilla Manor was. But then, these guys aren’t the naïve young explorers they were in 2010. They’ve chosen their muse, chosen their sound, and wherever they’re heading next, it sounds like they’re tighter than ever. As that murmur at the dawn of Fountain of Youth suggests, “I think we’d better listen to these kids.”
(Featured image: Henry Laurisch via Wikimedia Commons)