Album Review: ‘Sunlit Youth’ by Local Natives

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Earlier this year I had a moment with ‘Past Lives’ by Local Natives. The band hadn’t released anything in three years, and when they went and dropped a single that was pretty close to perfection, I felt really good and really excited about what was yet to come. It’s the kind of track that sits under your skin and stirs something deep inside you and when you listen to it on repeat for hours it can start to feel like pure magic. After that incredible start, I could hardly wait for their third album, Sunlit Youth, to be released. I was itching with excitement, aching for its release date. Now that it’s here and I’ve listened to it a dozen times over and it’s seeped into my soul a little bit, I figured I should probably share my thoughts with you.

Sunlit Youth is essentially ‘Past Lives’ on steroids – and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s simultaneously expansive and introspective, it’s instantly captivating, it’s borderline trance-inducing, and it’s honestly downright beautiful. It’s a perfect night-time album, one to listen to as the sun sets and the sky fades slowly into darkness, cloaking everything in quiet and comfort. It’s exactly what you’d expect from Local Natives, but it’s not boring or predictable. It’s hard to be displeased by a band that has perfected their craft just as Local Natives have.

The album opens with ‘Villainy,’ a powerful track about mistakes and do-overs and transformation. It’s one of my favourite songs on the album, and it has an understated intensity that draws the listener in, allowing the audience to instantly become lost within the parameters of the album. Next up is ‘Past Lives,’ which I’ve already reviewed and which I adore deeply. The track captures the nuances of youth within its pleading lyrics and fluctuating rhythms, and it’s a song that I can never see myself growing tired of.

Sunlit Youth seems to be made up entirely of stand-out tracks, so it’s difficult for me to pinpoint the ones I love the most. ‘Fountain of Youth’ is a glorious narrative, a declaration of the power that exists within the millennials, but also a plea for that weight to be lifted from our shoulders. ‘Masters’ speaks of young love and the feeling of invincibility that often comes along with that, and the track is surely just as beautiful as the love itself. These themes of adolescence and naivety and perceived power run through the entirety of the album, knitting the tracks together to form a cohesive unit whose sum is far greater than its individual parts.

The second half of the record kicks off with ‘Coins,’ which pulls easily at your heartstrings as it turns the difficulties of a long-distance relationship into pure poetry. ‘Mother Emanuel’ is undoubtedly the most moving and compelling song to come from the album. It’s also the most overtly political, a track that reflects and comments on the 2015 shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, North Carolina. It’s vivid in its critique of senseless violence, especially against people of colour, while also mentioning the public’s tendency to turn a blind eye when events such as these occur. The song is deeply raw and emotional, and also incredibly important.

‘Psycho Lovers’ is downplayed at first, but its real strength comes with the chorus. A powerful chant of “We won’t give up/Paradise/Heaven wants us/Alive” anchors the track, and sprawling verses and backing vocals make it feel heavy and enveloping in the most magical way. ‘Everything All At Once’ expresses the anxieties and pressure of adolescence, the substantiality of those defining years and the raw emotion that comes when it feels like everything is riding on a particular, fleeting moment. It’s a wave of peace and comfort and the reassurance that you’re not alone in your emotions.

The album ends with ‘Sea of Years,’ and quite honestly, it’s the perfect close. Somehow the band has managed to encapsulate the race to fit everything into life – all the experiences, the opportunities, the adventures and exploration – and how it can feel like you’d need to live a thousand times in order to do it all. It builds up just as well as ‘Past Lives’ does, and it ensures that the album closes with the same power that it opened with.

Local Natives made magic with this record. It’s a pure shot of what it feels like to be in the thick of your youth, to experience growth and heartbreak and change and challenges. It’s sprawling and intimate, it’s socially and politically aware, it’s quietly beautiful and massively overwhelming all at once. In all honesty I’m a little overcome by how much I cherish and delight in this album, but I won’t question that. The point is that Sunlit Youth is a triumphant, beacon-like album – one that you’ll fall in love with in seconds.

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