It’s been three years since Local Natives released their last album – discussing how their sound has ‘evolved’ since their last release seems easy to the point of cliché. It seems all too obvious to talk about a band’s growth or change when they hit album number three and onwards – years have passed, of course things have changed – but when Sunlit Youth’s first line sung is “I want to start again”, it would be rude not to.
Indeed, this line – taken from first track Villainy, paves the way for an album of re-invention and, moreover, rejuvenation. Ten seconds into this bouncy opening song will tell you that 2016 Local Natives have a completely different sonic palette to, say, the delicate indie-rock of 2010 Local Natives. Villainy swaps acoustic guitars for synths, leaning more towards electro-pop than the LA-based quintet ever has before; still, it’s recognisably them enough for it not to feel like a total betrayal of their sound in favour of something more mainstream (Coldplay, anyone?).
In fact, it seems only natural that the California quintet are evolving their sound as the years pass by. Whilst their debut Gorilla Manor plucked and combined influences from other 2010 indie staples – Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, Broken Social Scene, The National – to make something fantastically their own, it’s a formula that’s been mimicked and copied so many times since that it would feel tired and half-hearted to churn out again six years on. The knack of Local Natives is that they’re always two steps ahead of the game.
Villainy soars with new-found vivacity, an echo that calls out throughout the rest of the album – a far cry from the dark and stirring Hummingbird, the band’s Aaron Dessner-produced sophomore effort. Set against a context of deep emotional trouble (written shortly after the death of member Kelsey Ayer’s mother, and the departure of former bassist Andy Hamm) Hummingbird conveys hopelessness and alienation through the effortlessly emotive vocals of Taylor Rice and Ayer, exquisite in its softness.
The emotion of the band’s second LP is still alive and kicking in Sunlit Youth, but channelled with newfound energy and settling on a much more positive outlook. Fountain Of Youth celebrates the political outlooks of younger generations, exclaiming joyfully that “we can do whatever we want” in an anthem designed to be sung along to at the top of your voice at one of their live shows. It’s glowing with youthful optimism and, perhaps, a little idealistic, but who wants to hear “we can do whatever we want as long as I don’t go any further into my overdraft and also I’ve got an 8am seminar tomorrow” anyway?
It’s great to see Local Natives using their platform to incite political conversations, too; it not only expresses hope at the future in the hand of younger generations, but also clearly states their own political alignments – “I have waited so long, Mrs. President,” sings Taylor Rice after the first chorus.
Sunlit Youth presents Local Natives as bolder than they ever have been before – glimmering with new-found hope, alive with energy. But the qualities that first drew fans to the indie-rockers are all still here; intricately arranged vocal harmonies from Rice, Ayer and Ryan Hahn are present as ever, at times used to soothe and add a little ambience (Coins, Ellie Alice), at others used to stir up emotions and get you feeling something, man (Past Lives, Masters, Mother Emanuel, Everything All At Once).
Characteristically of the quintet, Sunlit Youth is a richer experience with each listen. Whilst some of the tracks are a lot stronger than others, the band’s third LP evokes such a vivid energy – so different mood from what they’ve done before – that makes them fantastically unpredictable as artists.