Rating: ★★★★★ out of 5
Amidst political unrest, violence and social injustice it is at times hard to focus on the positive. Local Natives, an indie rock band from Los Angeles, address tensions in the world in their third album Sunlit Youth with 12 optimistic, soothing yet empowering songs. The band reminds us that we are in control of our own lives and have the power to do something about the issues affecting us.
Released Sept. 9, 2016, Sunlit Youth is written entirely by Local Natives’ singer-songwriters – Taylor Rice, Ryan Hahn and Kelcey Ayer. In addition to compelling lyrics and beautiful harmonies, the band engulfs listeners with an array of powerful instrumental sounds created by drummer Matt Frazier and bassist Nik Ewing.
After their formation in 2008, the quintet moved to Silver Lake, CA, where they spent most of their time in a house that served as a recording space for their past two albums. Their debut album, Gorilla Manor, was even named after it.
Following the release of Fountain of Youth, a single off of their new record, Local Natives returned to the birthplace of their musical career to play a spontaneous rooftop show in July. Although the house did not act as their studio this time around, the band wanted to celebrate the song with their hometown fans, many of who have been around since the good old Myspace days. Despite the secrecy of the performance more than 1,000 people showed up according to their publicist.
With lyrics, “I’ll tell you a secret: we can do whatever we want, we can say whatever we mean,”Fountain of Youth encourages adolescents to demand change from politicians by taking action and speaking up for what they believe in. The band put to practice what they preach and did not shy away from saying what they mean, “I have waited so long Mrs. President.”
The anthemic song acts as a wake-up call not only for listeners but for the band itself.
Now in their 30s, the all-male group has evolved individually and artistically. Before beginning the writing process they developed a mantra to adhere to, one that inspires them to follow the energy flow and excitement. This newfound freedom of doing what they believed to be best allowed them to write three times more songs than in previous albums. In an interview with Jesse Cohen, Rice and Hahn talked about their writing trip to Nicaragua. There, they wrote 10 songs in eight days, however, only one made it on the album.
The first track, Villainy, perfectly demonstrates their openness to trying new things; it’s the first song they’ve composed without a guitar. The eccentric single has a prominent upbeat and gleeful tempo making it the perfect sing-into-your-hairbrush-at-the-top-of-your-lungs song. Halfway through, an almost robotic-like voice repeats, “it takes a moment for your eyes to adjust, step out into the sun,” emphasizing their transition from previous somber albums.
Their 2013 record, Hummingbird, channeled loss and heartache after the death of Ayer’s mother. The band described it as a cathartic way for them to deal with the difficult times in an interview with National Public Radio. After 18 months of touring and performing tracks off of the album they were spirited and rejuvenated, ready to make the shift from melancholic songs to more cheerful ones.
Although the record comes from a happier state of mind, it addresses issues such as violence and poverty to increase awareness of problems around us. Mother Emanuel, the eighth track on the record, is a combination of profound lyrics and a quick rhythm, highlighting the need to do something and do it fast.
Local Natives redefined their sound by embracing new instruments and techniques, which proved to be incredibly successful. Sunlit Youth is in essence the rebirth of the band. It could not come along at a better time. The album not only acts as an escape into outer space, an island or anywhere you consider your happy place but also evokes confidence and serenity.
The Sunlit Youth World Tour kicked off Sept. 14 in Tempe, AZ, and will come to an end Nov. 24 in Istanbul, Turkey. In the midst of their headlining tour they will play at the Austin City Limits Festival while making sure to visit neighboring Texas cities in between the two weekends. Tickets are available here, some purchases include a download of the album.