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Local Natives – Sunlit Youth – Review

Listeners have a hard time trying to understand the fuss about Local Natives. Despite the LA band earning fantastic praise with their previous two efforts Gorilla Manor and Hummingbird, as well as being named the hardest working band in 2013 – an awful lot of people don’t understand what the fuss is about.

Perhaps this is a rather unfair statement on Local Natives’ part. In the contrary, those who do get them really understand them. The five piece’s numerous reinventions to challenge listeners has earned them a devoted following. Despite Sunlit Youth not shimmering Fleet Foxes-esque choral folk-pop origins of Gorilla Mannor, Local Native’s third effort will be warmly received by fans.

Sunlit Youth kick starts pouncing energetically with ‘Villiany’. The result pays homage to their electronic influences, it’s bouncing with pulsating synths spluttering – it even features signature Local Natives harmony hook. Arguably the layered synths make the opener more resemblant to Arcade Fire’s Reflektor, but who knows who cares, it’s a strong return for the LA band after their three years away.

Where Local Natives have consistently shone is their more sombre moments, for instance ‘Columbia’ on Hummingbird addressed Ayer’s late mother. The song culminates in an anthemic yet harrowing “am I giving enough?”. ‘Fountain of Youth’ is equally affective and direct in delivering it’s message, with the band collectively yelping “we can do whatever we want”. It’s a positive message, and this optimism and theme of empowerment seems to run throughout Sunlight Youth. 

Unfortunately, when you veer towards the end of Sunlit Youth something doesn’t sit right. Despite the production being impeccable, the harmonies exceptional and musically excellent – perfection isn’t exciting. The LA band’s third LP makes for a pleasant listening, it just could be a lot more exciting. James Blake on arguably his most adventurous work in The Colour in Anything suggested that he learnt to be a less of a perfectionist and the result is an unpredictable yet beautiful album. I can’t help but think Local Natives would have benefited from James Blake’s approach.

Perhaps this is the distinction in the songwriting progress. Whereas previous song ideas would be culled from jamming together in the past, the third time around the band’s trio of songwriters Rice, Ayer and Hahn each produced songs on their own. Although, this may have increased the output for Sunlit Youth (allegedly they had 50 tracks to choose from) it seems to smooth over all the edges. If Local Natives went for a job, and at the interview were asked what their biggest weakness is they’d probably say they were perfectionists. Which is unfortunately is the rather dull and wrong response.

Perhaps I’m being harsh on Local Natives, Sunlit Youth’s poppy and energetic undertones culminate in a solid effort. It just feels like the five piece have lost a misplaced a little flair in their absence.

Sunlit Youth is out now!