Local Natives doesn’t seem to be saying much on its new album, Sunlit Youth. But it sure is hypnotizing. For twelve tracks, the band (original members save for bassist Nik Ewing replacing Andy Hamm) uses a formulaic approach to songwriting that’s successful but quickly becomes monotonous.

The formula goes like this: keyboardist Kelcey Ayer enters with something that resembles a UFO landing sound in an early alien flick, then a quick and light drumbeat lays the groundwork for Taylor Rice’s vocals. On each track, Rice sings about a variety of topics that seemingly have no through line, connected only by some internal affiliation to which listeners are not privy. Song by song, this is a recipe for laid back, often catchy indie rock. Yet it results in an album that seems to be one long song with track pauses.

Sunlit Youth works as an album you don’t have to think about, something you throw on when you want to hear something without actually listening. The music is disjointed and full of awkward, layered sound effects. On opening track, “Villainy,” Rice’s vocals are the only thing anchoring the song as the musical landscape shifts abruptly from a loping, clap-based beat to a variety of effects that sound as if they came from the preprogrammed keyboard your neighbor had in middle school. Every time it seems to have found a flow, Local Natives changes lanes, and this unsettled vibe doesn’t allow for the catchy, easy air of the band’s past work. Lacking earworms and a solid foundation, Sunlit Youth falls flat.

There are two exceptions, both thoughtful ballads. ”Past Lives” starts softly in a quiet place where Rice’s voice can flourish, before gradually building speed and adding harmonies.
Love is a common theme here, and for the most part it feels generic, as if Rice could be singing about anyone, but this track feels personal and specific. From the first lines, “Save me from the prime of my life/ And I’ll try to carry you home tonight,” the emotions feel real in a way that seems to elude the band elsewhere on the album.

Similarly, on “Ellie Alice,” there is an intimacy between writer and subject as Rice sings about taking a train with a girl and feeling the pain of being young and in love. Local Natives is clearly capable of writing compelling, emotionally arresting songs.

The album ends like a car that has stopped at the edge of a cliff simply because it can’t go any further. There is no resolution, and it feels as though a final track was left off by mistake. Sunlit Youth is overproduced and filled with muddled tracks that for the most part could belong to any start up indie rock band. One hopes that the next time out, the band can follow the example of highlights like “Ellie Alice,” and fulfill their potential.

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One Comment

  1. Ryan

    December 19, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Ryan Hahn sings “Ellie Alice”. Do so some basic research before writing a review please.

    Reply

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