Local Natives, 'Hummingbird'
By Wesley Jakacki
January 28, 2013
Following their 2011 debut Gorilla Manor, Local Natives ranked high on what I—along with many others—would call the breakout-ability scale.
In their debut, the Los Angeles indie rock band combined elements from three other indie rock phenoms making a potent recipe for indie rock success. They mixed the orchestrated anthem rock of Arcade Fire, the woodsy folk harmonies of Fleet Foxes and the feverish Afro-pop energy of Vampire Weekend to make for one of the most infectious albums of the year.
Now, most bands when faced with a successful debut album, usually take the ingredients of the first album, double the recipe and end up with a second album that either breaks them big or makes for mixed results. But the Local Natives have made something very different in Hummingbird, which is a quiet, contemplative and sparkling effort, the fruit of taking the two years following the band’s debut, filled with the highest of highs and lowest of lows as they were, and pouring all of this into what becomes a dazzling result.
Hummingbird opens with the longing ballad of “You & I” which captures well the spirit of the album as a whole. Where Gorilla Manor was made for hot fun in the summertime, Hummingbird was made for the dark of winter: In all this light, all I feel is dark / had the sun without its warmth, I’m freezing. “Heavy Feet” continues the tale of a love gone cold with one of the Natives’ two lead vocalists Kelcey Ayer singing After everything, after everything / Left in the sun, shivering. “Ceilings” probably stands as the albums simplest song, but the mid-tempo ballad warms up with its lovely harmonies. “Black Spot” comes as one of Hummingbird’s biggest highlights, with the tension just percolating in the verses finally leading to its cathartic release of a chorus reminiscent of Jeff Buckley’s heavenly sound.
One major reason for the change in pace with Hummingbird is the production work done by the National’s Aaron Dessner. The guitarist and producer to one of the best indie bands going today has placed his fingerprints all over indie music the last few years (Grizzly Bear, Feist, Sharon Van Etten, Justin Vernon) and his carefully crafted yet powerfully moving production style has created a new standard for indie anthems.
Lead single “Breakers” is the grandest Hummingbird gets, with its climbing wall of sound making for a song that is equal parts haunting and beautiful. “Three Months” reaches angelic heights with a pretty falsetto from Kelcey Ayer in the chorus and gently-paced piano and percussion that together shimmers like the heavenly Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós. “Columbia” is in loving tribute to Ayer’s mother Patricia who recently passed away. The song is named after her home country, and finds Ayer asking as his mother looks on, Am I giving enough / Am I loving enough. Ayer and Rice’s vocals are almost inseparable in their group harmonies which makes for some wonderfully seamless harmonies.
The second half of Hummingbird opens up a bit with the pleasant pep of “Black Balloons” and the whirling wallop of “Wooly Mammoth”, but the album mostly remains heavy-hearted and reflective. “Mt. Washington” gently strums along as the band picks up steam and confidence for one big final release of a chorus. Closer “Bowery” starts with the simple glimmering keyboard but is driven by the textured drumming of Taylor Hahn. Hahn’s percussion constantly pushed their debut Gorilla Manor forward with its dance-heavy and progressive drum breakdowns, but on Hummingbird, Hahn shows his maturity by playing understated yet dense drum fills really adding layers and textures to each song, helping to make each feel complete.
All in all, Hummingbird isn’t nearly as immediately gratifying or infectiously fun as Gorilla Manor, but the album filled with vulnerability and grace that’s hard to shake. The band wears its emotion on its sleeve on Hummingbird, but the incredibly dense and expertly crafted arrangements on Hummingbird makes this an extremely moving release from a band that looks to have more good things to come.