“Sunlit Youth” is a worthy junior attempt by Local Natives.
I begin with a disclaimer, an admission of extreme bias. The Local Natives is the first band I ever saw in concert. Their song “Airplanes” is the first song that ever made me cry. I bought a ticket to see them in England two months before the show and one month before I was to arrive in England. I went to a concert of theirs for my birthday once and waited for two hours in the cold at a sketchy venue in the middle of a state highway to meet the band. I love them more than I love most people I have known for many years. In summary, I had decided that I was going to like the new Local Natives album, “Sunlit Youth,” before the first single from the album was released.
“Sunlit Youth” was released Sept. 9 after about four months of marketing and build-up. It probably would have been better for them to start the PR a bit closer to the actual release date, but they allayed this issue a bit by releasing three singles in the process. “Past Lives,” “Villainy” and “Fountains of Youth” came out periodically. They were accompanied by music videos and social media posts emotionally explaining the songs’ inspirations. The band also used the lead-up time to put out upcoming tour dates, sell t-shirts and post numerous photos of their travels and recording process.
While I wish I didn’t have to wait so long for it, “Sunlit Youth” did not disappoint me. It is more similar to the Local Natives’ first album “Gorilla Manor” than their sophomore work “Mockingbird.” “Coins,” a new song about the troubles of a long distance relationship, is in keeping with the theme of “Cubism Dream,” a track with the same theme from their premier album. “Sunlit Youth” has many of these common trends. Love songs balanced with topical cultural references. “Everything All At Once” is a raw and emotional admission of complete and incomprehensible love. On the other side, “Mother Emmanuel” is the band’s platform to show solidarity with all those affected by recent shootings and other attacks.
There is definitely a noticeable shift in style in this album. The music has a much funkier feel than the band’s previous two albums, which both have a softer and calmer sound. “Jellyfish” and “Masters” greet the listener with heavy base and large vocal rollercoasters. “Past Lives,” the first single from the album to be released, is definitely the smoothest of the tracks. It is a love song that speaks melodically of a deep, spiritual connection that is durable across time and space.
One notable difference between this and the two previous albums, and something I am hesitant to admit, is the track of which I am not a fan. “Villainy” tries too hard to be alternative. There is a midsong deep voice that comes in to speak over the chorus once. It just makes me feel nothing but irritation. On the other hand, my favorite track on the album is “Ellie Alice,” a song that could easily be about romantic or platonic love and beautifully combines a funky and low sound with slightly light-hearted lyrics.
“Sunlit Youth” could never take the place of “Gorilla Manor” in my heart, but I do prefer it to “Mockingbird.” If you want to feel like dancing in a style similar to a cracked-out octopus while simultaneously wanting to drive into the country in some fog while sobbing embarrassingly, “Sunlit Youth” is just what you need.
I give this album 4.75 stars, only because nothing can be perfect.