by Rachel Dickerman
LA-based indie band Local Natives recently released their sophomore album Hummingbird, the follow-up to their 2009 debut album Gorilla Manor. True to that original ambient, low-key sound they produced with Gorilla, Hummingbird‘s soft and slow, piano-infused tracks offer a continuation, with a heavier emphasis on the experimental. Where Gorilla put forth a strong, discernible beat (“Camera Talk,” “Airplanes”), the latter album lacks some of the powerful climaxes and cadence that would have differentiated it more from other lo-fi indie tunes.
They may just be experimenting with their sound more, and I can’t begrudge them that, but it feels like there’s something less purposeful and deliberate about Hummingbird‘s tracks. “You and I’s” bridge of “Oh, oh, ohs” is reminiscent of Gorilla‘s hit “Sun Hands,” but lacks the originality in both sound and lyrics that made “Sun Hands” such a novelty. The second track, “Heavy Feet,” provides that pick-up from verse to chorus I was looking for, that strikes a chord when listening–you notice the shift in mood as lead singer Taylor Rice croons, “After everything, after everything,” as if the song has come alive.
“Black Spot” immediately hooks you, a fast-paced keyboard opens it followed by weary vocals. The first verse feels like the rising action of a story until it quiets down to that opening piano and repeats until the lyric “I won’t run” lifts it up and a heavy mix of all instruments takes it home.
“Breakers,” the first single, released in 2012, lends a fresh sound to the album with a fun guitar riff reminiscent of WALK THE MOON and a chorus of “oohs” that all too easily gets stuck in your head. “Black Balloons” follows the theme in its pursuit of deliberate and discernible guitar riffs, as “Wooly Mammoth” shows off the band’s synth capabilities.
Gems like “Am I giving enough, am I loving enough?” from “Colombia” portray the album’s lyrical prowess. Gorilla, too, did a good job with that, inventing creative and original lyrics for subject matter ranging from “Cubism Dream”‘s long-distance relationship to “World News”‘s epiphanic tale of a guy learning to be selfless after hearing about a bombing on the news (“And while normally, you’d yell and scream, instructing her to go and find him on her own, But calmly you’re exiting and telling her that you are headed on your way home”). However, Hummingbird lacks that story-telling quality of Gorilla–instead the writing is a bit more cryptic, open to a wider range of interpretations than something like “Cubism Dream”‘s “She flew across the sea, We talked on a small screen.”
I’m sure this album will grow on me after subsequent listens, but upon first listen, I don’t come away with a distinct impression. The hazy, lo-fi bridges are, at times, interchangeable, and the story isn’t always blatantly told–but it certainly doesn’t need to be. Local Natives have definitely established a sound–one that I’m sure they’ll challenge and manipulate with every album, and one whose progress and evolution will be worth watching.
Local Natives is playing at the House of Blues on 3/30.