Music Reviews

Local Natives Hummingbird

(Frenchkiss) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

To get to a desired outcome, it’s best to borrow from those you know. Silver Lake’s Local Natives held true to that ideal by establishing themselves as scholars of the indie rock pantheon, which really meant taking up the tried-and-true practice of adapting to the musical climate of the era (at the time, it was afro-pop) before truly understanding their potential. What their debut Gorilla Manor lacked in originality it made up in meticulous craftsmanship. But there was just something about it that resonated to even the staunchest opponents of reverbed guitars – it sounded refreshingly honest and down-to-earth, and with a kind of simplistic approach that usually precedes the biggest of bands.

Being a little on the shy side for the past three years, many began to question about which direction Local Natives would ultimately take for a new record. But there are clues all over Gorilla Manor that hint at the natural progression of Hummingbird – tone the playfulness down a notch, remain just as rhythmically vivacious, and emphasize the use of harmony. For those who like their bands to maintain a balanced level of risk, they’ll be glad to find out that they further expand their scope while still erring on the side of earnestness. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise – we normally expect indie rock acts to be enigmatic and inscrutable, but Local Natives want to invert that notion; please the listeners with an approachable sound without sacrificing the artful beauty of a song.

For a second, there’s a moment of apprehension in album opener You & I, in which lead singer Kelcey Ayer wails, You & I, were always strong, a sharp, clean falsetto over some wistful, ringing guitars. Though bright and chiming, it suffers with too-direct, empty sentimentality, not to mention that it insinuates a deviation into rustic, gently emotive territory. It’s not the most flattering of beginnings, but the gorgeous Ceilings more than makes up for it – the affectionate ballad plainly evokes a self-destructive doubt that’s conveyed strongly in its finger-picking arpeggio rather than its light use of words. The forthright joy and positivism of Gorilla Manor is seemingly lost this time around, and if they used to combat any heartbreak with wide-eyed naturalist spirituality, they now look upon it with resigned perspicacity.

Then again, Local Natives perform with a life-affirming clarity that clouds any inherent feelings of despair and incomprehension. The marching percussion in Black Balloons has the urgency of moving forward, except that its poetic description of a significant other’s words, black balloons that fall into a poison cloud, suggest a passive aggressive vitriol; hence, the impression that things aren’t getting any better. But it’s actually in the calmer, more plaintive songs that they get to reveal a growth in temperance: the steady, pleading strums of Mt. Washington could spin out of control at any moment even as it advices on restraint; the aching piano chords of Colombia speak directly to a deceased mother that still lives in spirit; the pompously dramatic Bowery feigns a lack of interest, a struggle for reconciliation told as he observes the expressive grandeur of New York City skyscrapers.

Hummingbird sure has an ample amount of sentiment, balanced in between moments of grave frustration and passive reflection. With Aaron Dessner (The National) at the helm, repeated run-throughs suggest he was the right man for the job, a musician who’s made a career constructing highly lavished arrangements out of very mundane circumstances. Sometimes, the results are heavily wrought and obviously worked over (the muddled instrumentation in the chorus of Breakers comes to mind), and some of the skittering grooves (the spastic tribal pounding of Wooly Mammoth) don’t quite fit in the album’s overarching arc. Nevertheless, the stately elegance of Hummingbird emphasizes how Local Natives are fit for the role of indie rock saviors. And considering the lack thereof in terms of essence, they’re by far the most adept at writing a song that could actually transcend its literal meaning.