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Album Review: Places by The National Parks

This album wasn’t perfect, but in context of their entire discography it turned out to be a really, really important record.

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By Sammy Collier

The National Parks are one of the most recognizable bands in Utah. Their third album, Places, was released in 2017. Brady Parks (guitar, lead vocals), Megan Parks (violin), Sydney Macfarlane (keys, vocals), John Hancock (bass), and Cam Brannelly (drums) made up the band at the time. Coming off of the success of Young and Until I Live, the band branched out with their sound and created a beautiful record.

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By incorporating synth sounds and even a saxophone in one song, they were able to show the sonic range they have as a band. From up-tempo catchy tracks like “Places” to slower introspective songs like “Beautiful Night,” The National Parks proved that they deserved the popularity that their first two albums gave them. 

This album made me feel like I was walking through Brady Parks’ life. When I listen, each song feels like I am experiencing the places and the moments that were significant to him and have made him who he is. His lyrics have a way of expressing feelings unique to him, but they also have a way of relating to everyone. We are all impacted by the people we meet and the things we experience. This album encourages reflection in our own lives by experiencing the life of another. 

From left to right: Cam Brannelly, Brady Parks, Sydney Macfarlane, John Hancock, Megan Parks.
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The song that I feel highlights the whole band the most from this album is “Beautiful Night.” They paint a picture of sitting with someone you love while watching the stars. Megan Parks’ violin and Sydney Macfarlane’s backing vocals sound like a cool breeze. The whole song builds to the moment where you look at the person you’re with and realize they are more beautiful than the scenery you’re in. There is a faint hint of regret – realizing you can’t be with this person – but the night, and the moment, are still beautiful. Listening to that song makes me feel so many emotions that I can’t quite put them into words. 

One of the most popular tracks from this record is “1953.” This is a song that I absolutely love and has brought me to tears a few times. The band did an amazing job at paying tribute to Parks’ grandparents and telling an amazing love story, complete with an interview beautifully woven into the song. This story is so unique to his grandparents (that’s what makes it so special) but everyone can feel true love while listening to it. It taps into a natural desire that humans have to grow old with someone and enjoy life together.

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“The Fire” is a great song about how rejection and disappointment can lead to better things in the future. It’s a song that I personally felt connected to. Everyone can relate to dealing with crushed dreams, but I was drawn to this song because it seemed to be telling my story. 

I sat looking through the screen when I got the news
(That the one that I loved would be the one that I lose)
I was half a world away, thinking that the world would wait
Change the plan, draw a map, I’m gonna get there someday

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This verse is subtle enough that everyone can relate to the heartbreak. However, it is a very specific feeling that many Latter-day Saint missionaries have felt (myself included). Getting a “Dear John” email can be heartbreaking and earth shaking. Teenagers leaving their friends and family for years think that “the world [will] wait” and things will be the same when they get home. That is rarely the case. But this song shows that these pivotal moments in our lives can pave the way to something better. It gives us the opportunity to make our life the way we want it to be – something that is so much better than we ever could have imagined. 

Overall, this was an amazing record. But at times it felt like the band was trying to find their sound but didn’t quite click. I love the musical range that they showed, and it hit more times than it missed, but it took some growing pains to arrive at the level that they are today. This album wasn’t perfect, but in context of their entire discography it turned out to be a really, really important record.

Their next album, Wildflower (which, in my opinion, is one of the best complete albums to ever come out of the state of Utah), really showed that they found their sound after Places. I can’t wait to hear more from The National Parks. They just keep getting better.

Make sure to follow The National Parks on Instagram and listen to “The Fire” below!

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