Local Natives – Sunlit Youth

Rating: ★★★½☆

In 2010, Local Natives, then a four piece, now a five piece, released their first studio album, Gorilla Manor,here in the United States to thunderous approval from the masses– their lush harmonies, wild yet clean percussion, and orchestral elements made their pop stand far above the masses whilegenerating a wide fan base. Three years later, they followed withHummingbird, which saw the band furthering their percussive reaches and treading into more emotional territory with a little production help from Aaron Dessner. Once again, three years have passed, and the band has pushed themselves into yet another territory: unabashed pop. The result is is Sunlit Youth; a fairly triumphant third release that refuses to apologize for its pop warmth and youthful glow.

“Villainy,” one of the strongest tracks and lead singles from the record, welcomes you to the album with Taylor Rice’s warm vocals, but the band is far from letting you ease in to the sound. Rice bellows, his voice already charged with emotion: “I want to start again!” The fluttering percussion from the past album is present, but sounds more digital and mechanical, meanwhile new synth additions stutter and spin through the forceful piano notes. Once more, later in the track, after the band has graced you with some gale force “ohs,” Rice will bellow that tag line from the beginning of the song, somehow with even more of a compelling emotion bleeding through his cry. Local Natives have, without a doubt, started again. They then transition into another single for the second track in “Past Lives,” which picks up where the band left off with Hummingbird, and these gentlemen are off to a great start.

This record is at its brightest when the band fuses theirold style with new energy. The tracks that stand out for me as following that pattern are “Dark Days,” “Masters” and “Psycho Lovers.” “Dark Days,” with a little feminine vocal help from The Cardigans’ Nina Persson, is a simmering electro pop jam with bouncing synth riffs that bound through the tune and balance the caterwauling strikes of electric guitar that chime in and out of the mix that holds you in its steady groove. “Masters,” channels the percussion of the band’s early sound as well as the harmonious “oohs” and “ahhs” that the band does so well. “Psycho Lovers” offers listeners a solid building track, the intermittent additions through the track’s progression creates for a spectacular final chorus.

Not every song on this third record is as much of a pop success, and some are easily dismissible– see “Jellyfish,” as an example of this phenomenon. On this track, the band seems stripped, missing the various guitar parts that really fill out the sound and provide the nuance that the band has become known for. Sure, the vocals are lovely on this track, but without the support of the full entourage of sound, it misses the mark.

Though the overall straightforward pop aesthetic could leave fans wanting a little more on some tracks, Sunlit Youth is a record that begs to be enjoyed and it’s not too hard to let yourself be swept up in the California sunshine that Local Natives never cease to radiate.

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