San Francisco – The number two: it’s powerful, yet submissive. It’s strong, yet unpredictable. It’s stalwart, yet malleable. It seeks comfort, yet it aches for dissonance. An album’s second track holds a powerful role, as it anchors the cohesiveness of an entire piece without demanding immediate satisfaction. Los Angeles-based outfit Local Natives has no qualms in harnessing the prestige of this ordinal power, as the band demonstrates a powerful grasp on what it means to be second on its third LP, Sunlit Youth. The album’s second track effortlessly acts as the collection’s emotional centerpiece, without any trace of pretension or deluded artistic hierarchy. Local Natives has always allowed the second tracks to root each of the band’s three full-length releases in relevant soma. The debut album Gorilla Manor sought emotional release in the startlingly upbeat requiem “Airplanes”—a ballad written for a lost relative—and similarly, in “Heavy Feet,” off sophomore release Hummingbird. On Sunlit Youth, the second track comes about in the form of “Past Lives,” the main sentiment of which is echoed in the song’s opening lines: ‘Save me… from the prime of my life.’
Beyond “Past Lives”—which is perhaps the best song the band has written since its inception some years ago—Local Natives’ third album cloisters itself in discovering roots that are both relatable and poignant. An album’s second track is given a unique responsibility: not only must it carry forth the exuberance of the opening number, it must also allow for the experience of the listener to transcend beyond one- or two-dimensional sonic allowances put forth by the origin sound; the person listening must discover a sense of complacency that is, at the same time, spontaneous and aurally electrifying. An album’s second track must carry with it the same sense of urgency that an opener does, albeit on a less grandiose scale, while still exhibiting a similar taste for the bizarre… a quizzical, enigmatic facet that keeps a listener rapt and enthralled.
Local Natives’ Sunlit Youth, the band’s third full-length album, might be the least mysterious of the bunch, as the lyrical themes—which range from millennial monetary issues to idealist and anthemic notions aimed towards modern politics—restrain themselves from being overly cryptic. One of the album’s previously released tracks, “Fountain of Youth,” spins a very cathartic yet rarely dramatized yarn of empowerment, preaching to the stubborn, “culture-ruining” generation of Millennials directly, begging them to exercise their right to vote in an effort to keep a certain Mr. Trump out of office. “Fountain of Youth” addresses a very real issue our country faces—especially during such a volatile election year—yet, who will listen? As someone born in the late 1980s, I have experienced firsthand the kind of smug, blasé attitude that is not uncommon amongst indifferent youths of today, during the election in the year 2000, as I’m sure the “Rock the Vote” generation experienced similar apathy in years before (though without the same disastrous outcome that we had to endure). During the opening line of the second verse—“I have waited so long, Mrs. President”—I can feel at least half of my peers cringing and wincing at those words. This isn’t a space for me to wax political, so I won’t—but I know many people my age that are disappointed, no, furious, that Sanders isn’t the Dem. Nominee. But there are those that have been on HRC’s team all along, and honestly, we could do a LOT worse. Corporate cat’s cradles aside, Hillary is it. Jill Stein is a superwoman, but girl, that ain’t never gonna happen. Maybe they knew all along, or maybe it was a lucky fluke in regards to the band’s songwriting… either way, it is a stance that is clear and irrevocable. It makes sense, despite whatever any of us may feel.
Local Natives has enthusiastically embraced a more electronic approach to music with many of the songs on the new album, though the band has done so without jeopardizing its original intent as a musical outfit. While some acts have completely surrendered to the rising trend of surrendering completely to modern technology, the members of Local Natives resiliently bind themselves to classical forms of songwriting; their style has expectantly adapted, much to the delight of their avid fans. Songs like album opener “Villainy,” scrappy number “Masters,” and punchy “Psycho Lovers” all feature a new direction the band has taken, yet all the while the outfit’s saccharine vocal harmonies and flickering instrumentation remain the driving force behind its collective talent.
As artists, the members of Local Natives have exquisitely mirrored their musical content in the stylistic execution of the album artwork. Debut Gorilla Manor featured distorted images of the band members’ expressions as graffiti, while Hummingbird, the band’s understated sophomore LP, featured a man curiously grinning as he clung to an airplane wing. Sunlit Youth is far subtler, as an image of succulent horticultural growth is projected upon a solitary figure, highlighted in blue and red. Sunlit Youth is meant to be our swan song, our generation’s final clamor that is to be echoed amongst the ears of our representatives, stinging the eyes of those “chosen” to speak for us. We have been given a gift, and that gift is our voice. The only problem is that we are ultimately disregarded. It’s time that art dictates life, and Local Natives is aiming to do just that.
Sunlit Youth is perhaps one of the most optimistic album titles I have ever heard in all my years as a music journalist. Rarer still is the correlation between such nomenclature, its inherent meaning, and the palpable lyrical content of a piece such as this. Having drawn from such sources as the archipelagos of Thailand, the humidity of Nicaragua, and the desperate, sunny loneliness of Los Angeles, Local Natives has delivered an unexpectedly organic piece of ubiquitous, sensational indie folk pop that is sure to stand the test of time. Unjustly, this will not be an album that is immediately appreciated. Its optimism is forthright, yet stands to be ultimately ignored.
I fear that this LP will fall prey to criticism. It’s not easy for a band to come across as positive—especially on the third time around, and in such trying times. All we can hope to achieve as listeners is the ability to find solace in messages of blissful expectation. The only thing stronger than the number 2 is the number 3—one of the few single-digit prime numbers—of which there is no derivative, yet holds power as a root, an integer, an esoteric governing principle. Local Natives has embraced this sacred number on its third release, Sunlit Youth, whether the band likes it or not. Lyrics cling to the contract of mastery. The incumbent generation is bathed in the bright, innocuous light of promise, and Local Natives just might be the truest embodiment of joy and tenacity needed to move forward.
Sunlit Youth is available for purchase digitally on iTunes or on vinyl and/or CD through the band’s webstore. Local Natives is about to head off on a Fall tour. A full list of dates can be found on the band’s Facebook page.
Photo Credit: Renata Raksha