REVIEW: Local Natives – Hummingbird

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Artist: Local Natives
Album: Hummingbird
Genre: Indie Rock, Indie Folk
Label: Frenchkiss (U.S.), Infectious Music (U.K./International)

The Los Angeles based indie rock outfit Local Natives made a big splash in 2010 with their debut long player Gorilla Manor. And for good reason. It has those gorgeous vocal harmonies. Can’t forget to mention the swelling choruses. Oh, and the always insistent rhythm section. But parsing the attributes of that album doesn’t really do justice to how enjoyable an experience it is to listen to. Instead, consider its longevity: released stateside in dreary February, Gorilla Manor had the legs to soundtrack many getaway drives through the end of summer and beyond.

The only criticism you could lob at it was that it was a bit front loaded. Though that wasn’t for an overabundance of filler. The four songs that open the album, from “Wide Eyes” to “World News” were about as good an introductory suite as there was in indie rock circa 2010.

But where Local Natives’ debut was ramshackle charm and good-natured vibes, Hummingbird is meditative and turned inward. Don’t worry, all the pieces are still there, from the frequent harmonizing to the great percussive work from Kelcey Ayer and Matt Frazier. They’re just being utilized in a somewhat different fashion.

Not that you could guess that from the surfy chords that greet the listener at the beginning of album opener “You & I”. But a minute in and we can already hear how Hummingbird is a new kind affair for the young band. The song builds and swells to the gently melodic chorus instead of immediately cresting at the hook. Local Natives works to earn the big, anthemic moments on Hummingbird. It’s a sign of maturity. This is a band with a bigger bag of tricks, employing an expanded vocabulary of compositional techniques. At times the album reminds me A LOT of latter day The Walkmen.

The downside is there’s nothing as immediate as “Sun Hands” and “Wide Eyes”. In fact, it’ll take listeners about sixteen minutes and four tracks to reach a moment that harkens back to those kinds of songs on Hummingbird. But the guitar squalls and uptempo hooks that lead off “Breakers” are well worth that wait.

Indeed, Hummingbird saves some of its best moments for the back half of the album. “Columbia” finds the band opening up some vulnerabilities as Kelcey Ayer asks his late mother Patricia, “Every night I’ll ask myself/ Am I giving enough?/ Am I loving enough?” Album closer “Bowery” starts out pretty and serene, reflecting on times fond times since passed. Then it makes a lot of noise before clashing and cooing to a close. Sounds like Local Natives went through some serious shit last time they were in New York City.

The only creative choice on Hummingbird that raises any eyebrows is the mix and mastering. Many of the tracks on the album are pretty heavy on the reverb, and while there’s no song drowning in its own sound, there’s a quiet murk present that doesn’t do the album any favors. Listeners who appreciated the front and center sound and merits of Gorilla Manor will be left wanting.

To sum up: Local Natives opted to tread the same sonic territory with essentially the same tools. Which is not to say it’s a rehash. The songwriting on display here is more developed, more nuanced than on Gorilla Manor. Hummingbird could do with a bit more diversity in its songs, some more immediate pleasures to go along with the growers and slow burners. But it’s a followup that allows Local Natives to skirt the curse of the sophomore slump relatively unscathed.

Score: 6.5/10
Review written by: Dayton O’Connor

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  • Mark

    “Columbia” is actually a song about Kelcey’s mom that passed, sung by Kelcey, written by Kelcey.

  • Dayton O’Connor

    Noted. Correcting in the post.