I’ve always associated some of my fondest childhood memories with a specific, glowing moment of the day. It was only until recently I discovered this particular time of day had a name—the golden hour. These illuminated memories remain as silent images; mere stills of the past cast by a wistful, auburn light. An ugly green carpet. The bottom of a coffee table. A slanted ceiling. There’s an elated sentimentality intermingled with the notions of hope and assuredness associated with these fleeting recollections. Simplicity was commonplace living in what was a miniaturized universe of naivety: an entire world skewed through innocence. Life was, well, easy. But I’ll quit the corniness.
In a now deleted video interview with Spin magazine, Local Natives guitarist Ryan Hahn explains the origins of the introductory jeers and heckles on “Airplanes,” the mournful eulogy penned by Kelcey Ayer for the band’s 2010 debut, Gorilla Manor. The group would play-mock the multi-instrumental bandmate in practice, poking fun at the track’s “Coldplay-ish” tendencies. But on the recording, just as a kick drum pounds in, there’s an immediate change in the crowd’s disposition. “Hey! Alright!” commend the in-studio audience, filling the first 15 seconds with claps of approval. Within its tracklisting, “Airplanes” is a perfect example of Gorilla Manor’s musical pliability as well as Local Natives’ artistry in song juxtaposition. The vivacity of “Sun Hands” follows, ending on a fiery guitar solo before breezing into “World News,” while the wiry Talking Heads cover, “Warning Sign,” prefaces the fluid gracefulness of “Who Knows Who Cares.” For both of their first two albums, Local Natives would construct a sound that not only set them apart from their peers, but would produce diversity between their own tracks, making each song melodically distinct and highly memorable.
It’s already clear the ripple effects of yesteryear’s acclaimed Tame Impala album Currents have reached the shores of the spirited indie rock outfit faced with the task of their junior-year project (note the baritone monologue of “Villainy”). Sunlit Youth’s lead single “Past Lives” not only fulfills their indie rock band titular requirement, but stands as the most compelling representation of Local Natives’ largely synth-pop overhaul for their third studio album. Subsequent track “Dark Days” is a personal favorite, and employs a perfect transitionary balance of weaving Local Natives’ older material with their updated sound. Unfortunately, too many tracks on the release rely on a cookie-cutter formula of verse-chorus buildup, making the concept run a little stale over the album’s 46 minutes. “Fountains of Youth” and “Everything All At Once” are the most notorious offenders in this case, following highly similar choral melodies and overall song arrangement. The quelled “Jellyfish” floats but flounders in the enclosure of a quickly exhausted drumbeat and synth pattern, never necessarily elaborating on an idea that was once immediately appealing.
Lyrically speaking, Sunlit Youth is a significantly lighter listen than the group’s two previous efforts, especially in comparison to the darker hue of Hummingbird’s lyrics. Their latest is a much brighter approach to their indie-rock pop foundations. While the band’s sonic origins remain most present on back-to-back tracks “Coins,” and “Mother Emmanuel,” the songs themselves seem somewhat out of place within the context of the album’s auric synthesis. Overall, Sunlit Youth is grounded in optimism, yet artistically less demanding than Local Natives’ previous efforts, as their development as a band has evolved into a project of confidence and composure.