Album Review: Local Natives—“Sunlit Youth”

By Hazel Sands, Feature Photo via Fortitude Magazine

“I wanna start again” opens Sunlit Youth—a perfect summation of Local Natives’s attempt at revamping their vibe to fit into a growing festival culture. On their latest effort, they avoid stagnation by stepping away from the elaborate strings and heavy drums that marked their earlier work and moving towards synthesized melodies and beats. They retain the backing vocals—the “oohs” and “aahs”that characterize their earlier sound but restyle it by synthesizing the vocals, notably on the track “Masters.” The sound we heard on 2009’s Gorilla Manor and 2013’s Hummingbird flutters in and out of the album, appearing on tracks like “Past Lives” and “Coins,” but in general it is permeated by tracks like “Fountain Of Youth” and “Villainy,” which fit themselves snugly into a youth-crazed summer.

Aside from a new musical sound, Local Natives veers their focus by using their voices to advocate in favour of various social justice movements. In early July, the single “Fountain of Youth” was released after the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, two black men who died at the hands of the police. Here, the band shows their solidarity with the BLM movement and their protest against the senseless violence committed against people of colour. The release of this single marked a consistent pattern of political advocacy made by Local Natives during the release of this album. After “Fountain of Youth”  was released, they performed the single on Conan, with vocalist and guitarist Taylor Rice displaying the words “Make America Afraid Again” on his instrument as a jab at Donald Trump. This is further emphasized by the lyric, “I have waited so long, Mrs. President.” Rice later said in an interview with Consequence of Sound that the line was not necessarily in support of Hillary Clinton herself but more for the concept of a female president in America, saying, “That’s one of the things I see a lot of progress in, feminism and our culture pushing towards trying to have a more gender-equal society.” One of the tracks from the album, “Masters,” builds on this sentiment, with Rice singing, “Are you afraid to call yourself a feminist? All the losers complaining ‘I don’t have time for this.’” Local Natives are utilizing their platform to criticize those who view social justice and feminism as a time consuming task, and denounce those who prioritize greed and apathy over empathy and justice. It’s refreshing to see an indie rock band take a public stand through both their actions and words for something they believe in. This change in the indie scene mirrors other movements we saw this summer, including the protest that came from all kinds of bands against the pro-life tent at Warped Tour. 

sunlit-youth

Album art for “Sunlit Youth”

Local Natives has always been a smorgasbord of sound due to the diversity of their band, with their three singer-songwriters—Kelcey Ayer, Ryan Hahn, and Taylor Rice—contributing to the lyrical and melodic progressions of each album. This was an issue they ran into and overcame on Hummingbird, crafting a breakout album that set them on the top of the indie rock pyramid. They run into the same problem on Sunlit Youth, but in a different way. Developing your sound alone is enough of a challenge, but doing it with three singer-songwriters all coming together to create a cohesive album is another beast altogether. You can hear the growing pains of the band on songs like “Masters” and “Mother Emanuel,” but tracks like “Coins” and “Psycho Lovers” really show them hitting their stride. On Sunlit Youth, Local Natives manages to capture the emotion from their past albums while simultaneously shifting their war-cry (think “Sun Hands”) to a call for joy and dance.

While some fans are upset at Local Natives for perceivably selling out and changing their sound to fit a broader audience, I think there’s a lot to be said about the evolution of any given band’s sound in the first place. Perhaps they did it out of the knowledge that festival geared songs would garner more revenue if they became popular, or perhaps they did it because they felt rutted in the same sound that permeated both Gorilla Manor and Hummingbird. Either way, this album marks a promising step at developing their musical tastes into something fresh for them and listeners alike.

 

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