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Local Natives' Soaring 'Sunlit Youth' Both Surprises and Sprawls

Music ReviewAndrew MeriwetherComment

It’s got to be hard work constantly lamenting lost love, passing youth, and uncertain futures. After years of always wearing your heart on your sleeve, scrunching and twisting up your face to croon one more emotional line, one imagines at a certain point you just want to cut loose and dance. Perhaps that is why on their third musical installment, Sunlit Youth, indie darlings Local Natives, decided to get a little funky.

Leaning heavily on synths and drums patterns resembling that of their contemporaries, such as HAIM, the Los Angeles band explores the pop genre more than on their previous records. "Villainy" is the clearest example of this new pop sensibility, a straight down the middle club beat underwritten by tasteful electronic layering makes for a head-bobbing track. The sound is refreshing, if a little mainstream, and long-time followers of the band will get pleasure from some of their new directions.

While in many ways a departure from their more raw roots, some mainstay characteristics of Local Natives certainly remain. The transcendently uplifting choruses, elegantly composed harmonies, and even some of the syncopated rhythms sneak there way among the catchy dance floor jingles. A Stevie Nicks-esque Nina Persson feature in "Dark Days" and the sidewinding stutter of "Masters" offer an intriguing surprise, while the big standout from the album is certainly the soulful “Coins." By far the most successful experiment by the band, "Coins"'s impeccable rhythm is driven by a groovy bass part, emulating something you might even hear off a Vulfpeck or D’Angelo song, while Taylor Rice’s voice also sounds unbridled and natural in stark contrast to the overly produced cadence on many of the other vocal tracks on Sunlit Youth.

Despite some tantalizing gems (most notably “Past Lives," “Coins," and “Villainy”), the album stumbles and sprawls a bit. At worst it feels derivative at times and can suffer from rather obtuse lyrics - on commercial-ready “Fountain of Youth” and “Masters,” the band seems to be nearly verging on the political, though never quite saying what they mean beyond tossing out a "Mrs. President," leaving the listener singing along to a chorus that is simultaneously gorgeous and meaningless.

With a shimmering title and lines like "Save me from the prime of my life," Sunlit Youth is a record that could've benefitted from an early summer release, but it will undoubtedly delight audiences planning to see Local Natives on their upcoming tour all the same, feeding the desire to not just sing along but dance as well. Though perhaps not their strongest overall, its standouts make it worth listening to, and at the very least, signals exciting things to come from the LA quintet.