Local Natives returns with a new release Hummingbird—the followup to their much-acclaimed debut Gorilla Manor. Local Natives builds off the success of their debut by sticking closely to the same formulaic sound of emphatic keys and guitars filled with soulful harmonies, but also showing the maturity and growth of an established band on their second release. While other emerging indie-artists have a growing tendency to diverge into new sounds, often experimenting with electronic and pop music, Local Natives continues to champion the spirit of bands like Arcade Fire, The National, and Broken Social Scene, that helped develop the indie scene in the early and mid 2000s.
While some may see Local Natives as no more than a tribute to the indie greats that thrived in the last decade, their ability as song-writers is strong enough for them to stand out on their own merit. In a period of time where experimental-pop, electronica, hip-hop and r&b are what’s popular, Hummingbird provides a breath of refreshing air.
The addition of producer Aaron Dessner of the The National gives Hummingbird an added level of texture and depth that was missing on Gorilla Manor and can be found on The National’s latest release, High Violet. Dessner’s work on the album helps the band maintain more cohesiveness over the entirety of the album, and while it levels off some of the edge that made Gorilla Manor so immediately appealing; peeling back the layers unveils a more refined form of the passionate energy that made Gorilla Manor stand out.
Vocalist Kelsey Ayer manages to plunge into the same emotional depths as found on Gorilla Manor’s highlight “Airplanes” with his sincere falsetto and introspective lyrics on tracks like “You & I” and “Three Months.” Part of Ayer’s magic as a singer and song-writer is his ability to communicate from an extremely personal level without isolating the listener. In the impassioned ballad “Colombia,” Ayer’s confronts the death of his own mother singing, “Every night I ask myself/Am I giving enough?/Am I loving enough?” repeatedly amongst a rising crescendo, forming the emotional apex of the album and making itself the highlight of the entire album.
While Ayer’s tracks provide Hummingbird with its sentimental core, vocalist/guitarist Taylor Rice takes the lead on the more upbeat-tracks like “Heavy Feet” and “Breakers,” both highlights that give Hummingbird a backbone with more tenacious melodies and dynamic harmonies.
Overall, the focus of Hummingbird is more on subtlety than playful hooks. The youthful spirit that was found on the more melodic tracks of Gorilla Manor like “World News” and “Camera Talk” has mostly faded, but the beautiful arrangements and powerful harmonies allow for the albums most heart-wrenching moments to become more uplifting and cathartic than draining. Local Natives managed to create something both arduous and delightful through its balance of tender song-writing and sublime musicianship, and it pays off in the end.
Local Natives will be performing live this Saturday at First Avenue in Minneapolis in a sold-out show with special guest Superhumanoids. I give this album four and a half stars out of five.