Some bands will just bring you back to a setting. For me, Local Natives is one of those bands. I had just started my freshman year of college, living the dorm life, a couple states removed from where I grew up and a lot colder. I remember the cold specifically, walking through the biting air with the only warmth being my oversized hoodie and 64-GB iPod Classic (r.i.p.). Gorilla Manor accompanied a lot of those walks that fall – and eventually that spring (has any album been better suited for the spring than Gorilla Manor?) – a welcome introduction from a new band destined to make even bigger waves later. Except they weren’t. 2013’s Hummingbird came out during a tumultuous personal period for the band, and the stark circumstances in which it was recorded made the album a tougher listen, if not just as gorgeous. It’s been over three years since that sophomore set, and Sunlit Youth comes at an interesting time for the band, their place in music’s hierarchy – and discussions – is muddled. Yet whatever they lost in clout over the years, they make up for in what is – if not their best LP – their most vibrant.
Prerelease singles “Past Lives,” “Villainy,” “Fountains of Youth” and “Coins” showed the band was still capable of brilliance – yet their vitality throughout an entire LP was questionable. But Local Natives prove to be more than that band soundtracking those long, lonely winter walks – some of the choruses and melodies here reach skyscraper heights – a band with surprising muscle and heft. One of the album’s best moments is the penultimate “Everything All at Once,” a song sung to the rafters that might just overshoot its target. It highlights what Local Natives do so well – building gorgeous, cascading anthems – but in a bigger, bolder setting. But it’s “Fountains of Youth” that is the true showstopper, a song so affirmative and crystalline it seems impossible it just recently came into existence. As the chorus hits, Taylor Rice wails, “we can do whatever we want, we can say whatever we mean.” The freedom permeates throughout Sunlit Youth, and I can’t help but think back to those winter walks in 2009. It’s a lot warmer now.
Sunlit Youth is out now.