Local Natives Brings Intensity with Violet Street
By EJ Jolly
Local Natives has never shied away from writing honest music. Ever since their first record Gorilla Manor, the band has been clear about the collaborative nature of their recording process. Each record since has always come together as a very unique project, the product of three songwriters amidst a group that isn’t too shy to switch instruments and try something new.
But there's something different about Violet Street - the band’s fourth studio album, one that comes nearly a decade after their debut, casts aside most of what fans were used to from Local Natives. They started the record from scratch, back in a tight-knit recording space with no pre-production in sight. Yet somehow, they manage to tackle the anxiety that comes with growing older amidst a world that never stops changing.
Violet Street is not a dour album by any means, rather, it shines a spotlight on the reality of our personal relationships as we grow older without forgetting about what draws us to them in the first place. Their lyrics are much more direct than the rest of their catalog, which is full of poetics and songs that happily dance around their true meanings. (Funnily enough, Violet Street is their first that features the bands' faces clearly; Gorilla Manor a distorted collage, Hummingbird and Sunlit Youth hidden from view.) But with Violet Street, the band has managed to clearly express complex emotions that permeate romantic relationships while still staying true to their poetic nature. They've used this album to experiment with both their lyricism and sounds, filling tracks like “Vogue” and “Cafe Amarillo” with classical strings and physically pulling parts of “Megaton Mile” through a tape machine only to stitch them back together. “Shy” clashes the almost childlike desire that comes with any new relationship with blaring horns halfway through, revealing something much more intense than the lyrics may lead us to believe at the start.
Violet Street feels like a natural response to the intense hopefulness that pervaded Sunlit Youth. Wanting to make something happier, the band created their 2016 record with a lot of hope in the world and people around us. A lot of that hope is now absent - listening back to “Fountain of Youth” is difficult; we’re still waiting, Mrs. President - and it’s not hard to see parallels between current events and pieces of the record. “Megaton Mile” plays with the very real possibility of an apocalyptic Los Angeles, with rubble and abandoned cars littering one of the most iconic areas of the city. In an interview with Consequence of Sound, guitarist Ryan Hahn says about “Cafe Amarillo”, “it’s about what keeps you grounded and strengthens you to keep pushing ahead. ...with all the tragedies and madness in the world while we were making the record, it was easy to feel powerless, but writing this song was a reminder of what gets you through all the things that you can’t make sense of”.
The record forces itself to slow down towards the end, and tracks “Garden of Elysian” and “Tap Dancer” very pointedly spend time looking back on the past. It’s almost jarring to hear the way the band tackles these relationships now compared to some of their previous music. (Love felt like conquering the world Gorilla Manor, but on Violet Street, it feels like change.) Inspired by a night spent around a campfire, “Tap Dancer” is another track full of tender harmonies and is much more clear in its longing for the simplicity of the past. After the hard truths of the songs that came before it, it’s a pretty fitting ending for the record. We all have an understandable desire to return to times when things may have been easier, but it’s clear that the members of Local Natives have experienced too much to do so now. From how well it seems these experiences worked to help shape Violet Street, it’s a good thing they’ve realized this - you can only continue to move forward from here.