Arriving off the back of well-received introductory singles 'Sun Hands', 'Camera Talk' and the stellar 'Airplanes' It was somewhat of a foregone conclusion that Gorilla Manor, the debut album from Californian five-piece Local Natives, was going to be a hit when it was released in late 2009. The gamble of a self-funded album paid unyielding dividends, launching the band onto the global stage with impressive sales, TV appearances, sell-out headline shows, and tours alongside musical juggernauts Arcade Fire and The National. When their time on the road with Gorilla Manor wound up, Local Natives returned to their homestead of Silverlake and converted an abandoned house into a live-in rehearsal studio to facilitate the crafting of the follow-up - minus a bassist, as Andy Hamm parted ways with his bandmates. Once the creative hard graft was completed Local Natives decamped first to Montréal and then to Brooklyn to lay down their efforts - the influences of their touring buddies not just permeating their recording location choices, but also their production, with The National's Aaron Dessner at the helm. The end result is Hummingbird, released today via Infectious Records.
Inspired by “the emotional framework of being stretched between two opposite poles”, thematically Hummingbird is somewhat dark, with lyrical explorations of the price of fame and how success can come at the expense of personal relationships. Lead single 'Breakers' paved the way, released in late November to reintroduce the band to the scene - with its busy instrumentation and multi-layered harmonies, spearheaded by twanged guitar riffs, it's textbook Local Natives and heralded a welcome return. Another preview track, 'Heavy Feet', followed - a more subdued affair, percussion at the forefront, albeit somewhat derivative of 'Bloodbuzz Ohio'... In fact imprints of others can by subtly felt throughout Hummingbird - for example, one could be forgiven for thinking they'd mistakenly skipped onto Bon Iver's self-titled second album upon hearing the intro to 'Black Balloons' - but as much as Local Natives may wear their influences proudly and loudly, it comes down to inspiration over imitation.
Album opener 'You & I' possesses the warm intrigue of familiarity whilst offering interesting new rhythmic patterns, a potential single-in-waiting, with Taylor Rice's falsetto soaring free from the usual barrage of harmony. The song affords an all-new appreciation for Rice's individual vocal prowess, which is experienced again with the delicate 'Three Months', and in particular on the slow-burning soliloquy of grief 'Columbia'. In contrast, 'Ceilings' is all the better for the back-up, Rice beautifully aided by the fleshed-out vocal layers throughout. Experimenting with instrumentation, 'Black Spot' could have backfired drastically - but thankfully it's more heavily-populated than over-crowded; whilst the frantic beginnings of 'Woolly Mammoth' segway into a monumental wall-of-sound - anthemic to the core, it's the kind of track that can instantly be envisioned mesmerising the masses in a live setting.
Those seeking a repeat of the instantly catchy Gorilla Manor are likely to be disappointed by Hummingbird - Local Natives quite literally 'hooked' us in with that dazzlingly harmonic smart indie-rock debut, but things are different this time around. Disparaging as this evaluation may seem, the opposite is intended - the band have embraced change and branched out, and just as their musical approach has deviated, naturally so too has the music. Hummingbird provides an opportunity to get to know the inner workings of a more mature Local Natives, and it is one that should be seized.