New album from Utah band The National Parks is set to become your next summer soundtrack

The album, ‘8th Wonder,’ comes out Friday, and their tour starts March 17 in Salt Lake City.

For the members of the Utah folk-pop band The National Parks, the moment that crystallized their sixth studio album, “8th Wonder” — and their renewed focus on the band’s identity — came in a Zoom call last year.

“I feel like we really had a breakthrough,” said Brady Parks, the band’s guitarist and lyricist. “We wanted to lean in to who we are as a band — and our name — more than we ever have, and create an album that really represents who we are and the things that we love.”

Part of that identity is tied to nature — something embodied by the band’s name. Much of “8th Wonder,” which is set to be released on Friday, sonically captures the epic feel of grandiose vistas and adventure. The album combines two Utah staples: happy-go-lucky folk music and the love of the state’s outdoor beauty.

The album — 11 tracks, culled from 30 songs the band started with in the studio — is filled to the brim with joyous production. When listeners least expect it, they will be pleasantly surprised by the quartet’s distinct musical contributions.

There’s Parks, with his precise guitar. His wife Megan Taylor Parks, gracefully comes in with her violin or tambourine. Cam Brannelly is a force to be reckoned with behind the drum kit. And keyboardist Sydney Macfarlane, who also plays banjo, is a portrait of control. The album is also built on a frame of strong melodies and perfectly synchronized harmonies.

The National Parks recently gathered in its rehearsal space in North Salt Lake, playing the album’s opening track and first single, “Angels,” and the title track. They showed that the band, having performed together for 10 years, has become a well-oiled musical machine.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The National Parks lead singer and guitarist, Brady Parks, center, singer and keyboardist, Sydney Macfarlane and drummer Cam Brannelly practice one of their songs at their practice studio in North Salt Lake on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.

The space is decorated with cactus lights (a holdover from their 2020 album, “Wildflower”), a floral sign touting their Superbloom festival from last September, a neon sign bearing the band’s initials — “TNP” — and a spare drum set adorned with fake flowers.

On a metal box in the back of the room, they’re devising the setlist for their upcoming tour — which will start on home turf, March 17 at the Union Event Center in Salt Lake City.

If “Wildflower” was an indication that the band was done chasing a radio-friendly pop sound, the sound progression of “8th Wonder” was more organic, said Megan Taylor Parks.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Singer and keyboardist, Sydney Macfarlane of the folk-rock band the National Parks plays one of their songs from their new album 8th Wonder on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.

One of the takeaways from that 2022 Zoom call, Macfarlane said, is the four bandmates decided they didn’t need to try so hard — and instead showcase and stay true to who they are.

What’s showcased on the album are big anthemic pop sounds with folk undercurrents, with room for exploration. This is best displayed on the album’s strongest track, “History Channel,” which has an unexpected pop-punk flair to it.

Another thread is the album’s lyricism, which plays on nature metaphors without being cliché, in songs like “Sunshine” — where the band croons ‘You’re the center of my solar system’ — or in “History Channel,” where Brady Parks sings “I think you’re shifting all my tectonic plates.”

Macfarlane said, “there’s a lot of songs on there that are trying to help remind people to get outside of your head and just go into nature with those that you love.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The National Parks violinist Megan Parks jams through a couple of songs with the rest of the band in their practice studio on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.

Macfarlane’s favorite track on the album is “Let’s Go Outside.” Both Megan and Brady Parks single out “Great Sky.” And Brannelly points to “Trouble,” a track that was originally written for the last album, but the band decided to save for this one.

Picking the album’s opening and closing tracks was the easiest part of the process, Brady said. “Angels,” he said, was one of the first songs he wrote for “8th Wonder,” and it helped shape the direction of the rest of the album.

“I had this picture in my mind of this epic road trip and adventure-like experience in Zion National Park, and we had just climbed Angels Landing not too long before,” Brady said. “It was very much inspired by southern Utah and, … for me as a songwriter, I draw a lot on nature, because of how there’s so many parallels between nature and our lives.”

The closer, “Rodeo,” is about “finding home, no matter where you are, as long as you’re with the people that matter most,” Brady said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The National Parks drummer Cam Brannelly and singer and keyboardist Sydney Macfarlane, join the rest of the band in their practice studio as they talk about their upcoming album 8th Wonder on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.

The title track, Brady said, best exemplifies what the band wanted to capture: a larger-than-life sound and feeling. “8th Wonder,” the song, asks listeners to consider their own “eighth wonders,” whatever they love or latch onto.

Each of the quartet listed their families and spouses as their personal eighth wonders. Beyond that, Macfarlane also included trips to Lake Powell, and Brannelly said snowboarding and hearing from fans tell them how their music has affected them.

“You get hit with those moments all the time,” Brannelly said, “where maybe you’re having a low, you feel like you’re not doing anything right, and then someone comes up and they’re like, ‘You’ve changed my life.’”

“Sometimes when you’re chasing this dream, there’s a lot of ups and downs,” Megan said. “It’s a freaking roller coaster ride. But there are these moments that we’re on stage or we’re recording where you literally [get] goosebumps and you’re just like, ‘This is it. … This is why we’re doing this.’”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The National Parks lead singer and guitarist, Brady Parks warms up with the rest of the band in their practice studio as they prepare for the upcoming release of their new album 8th Wonder on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.

If success for The National Parks is measured by staying true to themselves, it’s safe to say “8th Wonder” is successful — because it not only celebrates their roots, but embraces them.

The bandmates said they do consider themselves a successful Utah band so far. Being a product of the Utah music scene, Brady said, encourages some positive competition. They say they hope to follow in the ranks of bands that started in Utah — like The Aces, Imagine Dragons and Neon Trees — and have crossed over into national recognition. (To that end, the band previewed “8th Wonder” at corporate parties for out-of-state visitors during both the Sundance Film Festival and the NBA All-Star Weekend.)

The songs on “8th Wonder” are set to become a summer soundtrack, something listeners can mold in their own ways, to their own memories.

Most of all, the album is a time capsule for The National Parks — capturing this era of their lives, the home state that made them and the beautiful landscapes that inspired them.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The National Parks folk-rock back is getting ready to release their new album 8th Wonder as they gather at their practice studio on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.

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