January 30, 2013

Test Spins: Local Natives, Hummingbird

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If Gorilla Manor was Local Natives’ freewheeling, flowerchild of a debut, Hummingbird represents its moody, teenage successor — equally the audible nectar listeners have come to expect, but with the increased range of emotion and energy of an ever-maturing band.

Some have accused the four-piece outfit from Silver Lake, C.A. (the west coast’s answer to Brooklyn’s Williamsburg) of being a living, breathing Urban Outfitters commercial, which with its propensity for acid washed denim vests and ill-fitting cardigans is understandable. In a way, the particular brand of indie pop-rock that Local Natives achieves via rolling drums and haunting echoing vocals is so utterly of the moment that such comparisons to the ubiquitous hipster-mecca superstore seem vaguely appropriate. In the wake of 2008’s Chillwave movement, Local Natives has found a sweet spot balance between insanely catchy melodies, unobtrusive guitar riffs and the implementation of unique musical techniques that solidifies them as an integral and defining part of the current indie music scene.

While the band does stick with its signature practice of layering high and low octave vocals on top of one another for that extra punch of depth and resonance, something remarkably new that Hummingbird brings to the table is the repeated use of dramatic “drops,” which add an EDM level of momentum to its indie ballads. Songs like “Bowery” and single “Breakers” showcase this method. Both create short punctuated silences that, when broken, give way to thundering drums and spine-tingling choruses. Amazingly, the Natives avoid the curse of sounds bleeding together into a multi-instrument mess. Instead, they have created a powerful contrast that is miraculous and downright exciting.

Although the album does have these explosive tracks, equally important to note are the slower, subtler ballads. In this way, the album is a clear departure from Gorilla Manor, in which songs were for the most part uniform in terms of upbeat, sunny style to the extent that the song “Airplanes” (which was written about the death of a band member’s grandfather) sounded just as playful and lively as the others.

The same is not true for Hummingbird. A difference in tone is evident from the very first track of the album “You and I,” which begins with a minor key (that is present frequently throughout the album) that gives the song a vaguely mysterious air — playful in a more dangerous way.

The difference between the happier, fuller songs and these relatively more reserved numbers is made very clear. “Ceilings,” which ruminates lovingly about the summer sun as the refrain “silver dreams bring me to you” is repeated throughout, is audibly different from the subtle sadness heard in the sparseness and mournful vocals of both “Three Months” and “Colombia” — beautiful homages to keyboardist /singer Kelsey Ayer’s late mother. Lines like “Ohh, every night I ask myself am I loving enough, am I?” bitingly illustrate the bitter loss of an important figure and all of the regrets and uncertainties that go along with such trauma. The suddenness of tragedy is encapsulated as the song pleads, “I’ve got to go on now; having thought that this wasn’t your last year.” The band tackles similar issues of loss in a new, more personal and ultimately more effective way than ever before.

Though some early reviews have complained that Hummingbird is just business as usual: the same pretty, simple songs that won the group acclaim in its first attempt — to me, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In its sophomore album, Local Natives builds upon the beautifully easy elegance that earned them fans in the first place, adding intricate melodies and minor chords that grant a level of depth and emotional complexity that, with hindsight, was sorely missing from Gorilla Manor. The group hasn’t lost its “je ne sais quoi” factor that makes every song an instant favorite, but it has also managed to diversify its sound enough to stave off musical stagnation. This impressive evolution of stylistic range illustrates the growth that Local Natives has experienced as a band over the past three years and solidifies them as a real force to be reckoned with.

Original Author: Lucas Colbert-Carreiro