New Music Tuesdays: Local Natives – “Hummingbird”
Often, new bands are immediately defined by a few characteristics; which of their contemporaries they sound like, who they tour with, and the time they emerge in. This can pigeon-hole bands, forcing a label on them that might not aptly describe the band ascetic or intentions. When Local Native’s first album, Gorilla Manor, was released in the US in 2010 it drew comparisons to the indie royalty of the time: Arcade Fire (whom they opened for), Vampire Weekend, and Fleet Foxes. They were even called a “sort of West Coast Grizzly Bear.” The album itself was fantastic. For me, it was one of the best of 2010 and has remained on rotation since then. However, as much as I wanted more music from the band, I was extremely glad they waited three years before releasing their sophomore album. Though this was definitely a side-effect of a rigorous tour schedule, the loss of a bandmate (bassist Andy Hamm), and relocation from LA to Brooklyn, it allowed the talk surrounding the band to subside and gave time for the band members to mature and hone their own style.
On their debut, Local Natives borrowed much from their contemporaries, while adding their own touches, creating a great indie rock album that is truly showing of the bands youth. They are eccentric and clearly enjoying themselves. On their follow-up, Hummingbird (out today), the band shows their maturity. While Gorilla Manor had songs that dealt with mature themes such as mortality and love, even the most mature of these, “Airplanes,” which deals with the death of a grandfather, does so with a touch of naivety, “I bet when I leave / My body for the sky the wait will / be worth it.” On the other hand, there is scarcely a song on Hummingbird that doesn’t touch on a mature theme. Songs like “You & I” “Three Months” and “Wholly Mammoth” deal with a lost love, implying the distance and change that has come between two lovers after their initial summer. Dealing with mortality are songs like “Black Spot”and “Heavy Feet” with thoughts of acceptance of death: “if [death] comes to claim / I won’t run,” as well as life beyond death: “telling me how you’re going to outlive your body.” Most strikingly, however, is “Colombia” which is also probably the saddest song I have heard in a long time. Similar to “Airplanes,” the song deals with a death, yet this time is of the singer’s mother, Patricia. The singer is torn, stricken with pain and exclaims “If you never felt all of my love / I pray now / you do” before following down a path of self-doubt: “every night / I ask myself / am I giving enough.” The song speaks strongly the loss of a loved one. The maturity level of the lyrics has increased significantly which works extremely well with the instrumentals throughout the album.
Beyond the lyrics, on Hummingbird the band seems to grown more comfortable with themselves and the music they are creating. They’ve kept a majority of the elements of their debut, but have refined them and made them their own. Fewer of the Fleet Fox style harmonies are found on this album, which gives more individualized sound to the lead singer, who in turn sounds more comfortable in the spotlight. Similarly, their maturity is seen in a focus on more wide-ranging song structures, instead of relying on the verse-chorus formula. The band instead has some ever-shifting songs that might return to a specific pattern or line, but often chose to explore new areas, such as “Black Balloons” which begins with an extremely driven, repetitive guitar and rhythm section that persists for a majority of the song until the two minute with a beautifully played bridge that in turn morphs into a new section that maintains the drive of the first half of the song. Many of the songs are extremely reminiscent of Gorilla Manor, utilizing the strong drumming and melodic, chord-driven guitars that was frequent throughout the first album. Most notably is the song “Breakers” which uses Gorilla Manor‘s panache for clapping to great effect that fuels the song. However, the band isn’t afraid to explore new territory and it is this comfort with themselves that sets the album apart as a separate work. With Hummingbird, Local Natives doesn’t seem as defined as on their debut. They’ve pushed beyond the label as “just another indie band” and it works out well for them, creating a memorable and driven, albeit slightly short, sophomore album that demonstrates a heightened maturity.
Ranking: 4.5 / 5
Key Tracks: Breakers, Colombia, Black Balloons