Think about a U2 album. Which album did you think about? We may have all mentally selected different albums but we all heard the exact same sound in our heads. U2 has crystallized a set of sonic qualities, which are uniquely theirs, that may be flavoured with different spices from album to album but are all unmistakably part of the U2 recipe. In this same fashion, Local Natives has created a sound of their own and on their new album, Sunlit Youth, they again play true to form while adding in new elements not present before.
If Gorilla Manor was their quirky and upbeat debut and Hummingbird was their somber and gorgeous mediation on life and death, Sunlit Youth is their collection of adult anthems. Anthems get a bad rap in today’s musical landscape. In 2016, a band simply wouldn’t be allowed to release a track like Jungleland or Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and not lose whatever indie street-cred they had earned up to that point. Part of the reason for this is that the anthems of today haven’t changed formula so they sound either dated or fake. Local Natives shakes up the anthem formula ever so gently by adding in the electronic elements of today’s pop music.
They also largely avoid, “getting there.” “Getting there,” is when the anthem builds and builds and finally hits the crescendo of release, a path we have walked down many times before. On Sunlit Youth, Local Natives purposefully avoid the crescendo, the breaking point, and in doing so they steer clear of neat and tidy songs that ring out as dated or fake; they live in the tension of reality. Even on our best days, we don’t know what happens tomorrow. Local Natives crafted an album that lives, honestly, in the moment with the very real knowledge that there shouldn’t necessarily be tidy endings because that’s just not how life works.
I predicted, in my 2014 review of Hummingbird, that the indie-rock scene was dead and Hummingbird would be seen as the pinnacle of that era. I don’t know if indie-rock is dead but it certainly isn’t as omni-present as it once was. Local Natives must’ve felt the same way because they came back with added modernity to their sound. Even in a much more highly processed and synthesized form, Local Natives is still unmistakably Local Natives. You can pick up any of their albums at random and know exactly what to expect even if you don’t know exactly how it will be flavoured. They have crystallized a sound and voice that stands out amongst their peers and Sunlit Youth is an excellent continuation of their impeccable catalog.