The band's new bells and whistles are immediately demonstrated on opener "Villainy," which features bubbling synths and drum machine behind singer/guitarist Taylor Wise's trademark wail. Even more daring is "Coins," a taut, brash funk cut that's unlike anything else on the record.
These little experimentations are welcome additions to Local Natives' trademark sound, which otherwise remains largely intact here. Like their last two albums, Sunlit Youth draws heavily from late 2000s indie rock, deftly synthesizing Band of Horses choruses, Fleet Foxes harmonies and general reverb submersion to create another album diehards will find satisfying. The caveat is that you can't help but feel like they're playing it safe, even with the new flourishes and genre exercises. Indeed, the more synth and funk-heavy tracks tease the bold new record that Sunlit Youth could have been if the band had opted to follow these experiments down the rabbit hole instead of opting for the comfortable and familiar.
And yet, when the formula's this successful, can you blame them for sticking with what they know? Tracks like "Past Lives" and "Masters" are hard-driving and anthemic, but with an underlying tenderness that distinguishes them from their car commercial pap contemporaries. When they want the drums to pound, they rattle like hell, and when they want the choruses to soar, you better believe they're airborne.
Sunlit Youth may not be the massive leap forward some fans may have wanted, but it's far from a step back. Instead, it's yet another steady offering from Local Natives, who continue to build on a solid catalogue. (Loma Vista)