Local Natives - Hummingbird
Record Label: Frenchkiss Records/ Infectious Records
Release Date: January 29, 2013
Indie rock is getting prettier with every release. A genre that was once heavily focused on despondent boys thrashing out their broken hearts into their ramshackle guitars in basements and pubs has taken quite the left turn in the last couple of years with a whole new generation of folk and orchestra influenced bands taking over the genre and establishing themselves as the kings and queens of the music. The list is endless; Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, The National, Grizzly Bear - all names that are synonymous with modern indie rock and all wonderfully pretty bands. This is the point that Local Natives come in. Whilst not quite as famous as the aforementioned bands, Local Natives are another band that eschew lo-fi, DIY values and wholeheartedly embrace perfection and exactness with lush instrumentation, layered vocals and sweet melodies. On their debut album, 2009’s Gorilla Manor, the band found themselves stealing hearts with their brand of indie folk, now it’s four years later and they’ve returned with Hummingbird. So, does it live up to their debut?
It certainly does. It’s been a long four years since Gorilla Manor and the band have spent that time crafting and refining their sound, whilst, of course, taking over the world. They’ve encountered both the loss of their bassist, as well as creating the buzz of a thousand after nine triumphant SXSW sets; and Hummingbird shows exactly how much the band has grown. Hummingbird is an extremely mature album. From the first pulsating guitar of “You & I” to the closing swirl of “Bowery”, the album embraces beauty and delicacy. “You & I” slowly builds up before not quite exploding, but relaxing into a triumphant wall of sound, “Ceilings” is a lesson in warm finger-picked indie folk that always remains calm and controlled but has an infectious spine. One could go through each track of the release and describe it in the way one would describe an entire album; no song is without subtle nuance, layering and an abundance of instrumentation.
The production on the album is quite spectacular. Whilst I can’t say production is something I note usually, the record sounds absolutely massive. Never does anything sound out of place and despite the sheer barrage of instrumentation and layers throughout it everything sounds like it was absolutely necessary to make the record what it is. Trackwise, Hummingbird contains a plethora of highlights. Lead single, “Breakers” is as catchy as they come with its jangly guitars, infectious drumming and ‘ooohs’. Never does the track extend itself too much in order to be a stand out single, it just has a natural, calm catchiness to it and its chorus is absolutely wonderful. Another highlight is “Wooly Mammoth”. The drumming on the track is spectacular and somewhat goosebump inspiring; whilst the vocals, always a little reminiscent of Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold, compliment the instrumentation perfectly with its warm tones and steadiness. “Wooly Mammoth” is the embodiment of an anthem, with the track being tailor-made for singing along and pumping one’s fist (in a baroque manner, of course). However, although these tracks are the highlights of the release, there isn’t really any lowlights (if it’s not a word, it is now). Each track sounds like it belongs here and none are to be missed.
The only criticism one can really apply to Local Natives is that they wear their influences on their album sleeve a little too much. At times, they sound a little too like Grizzly Bear, or a bit too Fleet Foxes-like and whilst, most of the time, this is perfectly acceptable as it only endears them that bit more to fans of the aforementioned bands - on the odd occasion it’s a little too close for comfort. “Black Balloons” is the main example of this. The guitar line is basically Bon Iver’s “Perth”, but just a little faster, and while it isn’t too detrimental to the rest of the release, it does slightly damage the band’s individuality. However, once you get past the occasional overly familiar feeling, Local Natives are very much their own band.
Overall, Hummingbird is a wonderful album. Each song manifests itself in a truly attractive manner and it’s a release that’s very much focused in the aesthetic. Fans of their debut might find themselves a little less instantly enthralled with this release, as it steers somewhat away from the catchy accessibility of Gorilla Manor, however with a little time given to it, Hummingbird embodies everything that’s beautiful about music.
Great review. This band has been one of my favorites as of about 2 years ago, seeing them in March for the first time. This CD didn't hit me as hard as Gorilla Manor, but I still find it really interesting and calming to listen to. I feel like the structures of their songs aren't as intricate as the first CD, like they just searched for a nice hook or riff and tried to layer over it as much as possible through each song, though it's done really well and each one definitely sounds beautiful. Love the lyrical content as well. They will continue to do great things.