Review: Local Natives’ second album does not disappoint

Ryan Morris

Editor’s Note: The following reflects the opinions of the author.

It’s been four years since the release of “Gorilla Manor,” the debut album from indie rock band Local Natives, and a lot has changed for the band since then.

The band parted with bassist Andy Hamm in 2011, in some ways an integral part of the band’s scrappy, energetic sound.

More devastating, however, was the loss of singer and multi-instrumentalist Kelcey Ayer’s mother in the summer of 2012.

Despite these setbacks, Local Natives’ new record “Hummingbird” avoids the sophomore slump in every way possible.

The band has delivered a complex, emotional album that follows up on the promise of their debut while carving out a satisfyingly unique niche for themselves in the current indie rock landscape.

The primary draw for “Hummingbird” is the way it sounds, courtesy of production from Aaron Dessner, guitarist for and one of the main creative forces behind The National.
Dessner’s production gives “Hummingbird” a shimmering, layered quality that never feels overproduced. There’s heavy emphasis on intricate rhythm, with walls of bucolic guitar and piano lines, as well as the occasional synthesizer.

Local Natives’ vocals really shine here. Ayer and other vocalist Taylor Rice trade lead vocal duties from song to song. Together, they push their voices to new heights, supported by the band’s trademark three-part harmonies.

What really sets “Hummingbird” apart as a triumph, however, is the songwriting. This is a much more nuanced, introspective listen than the playful “Gorilla Manor,” but the band more than pulls off this approach.

Though nothing here is as hooky as “Sun Hands,” the band manages to come up with keen, affecting melodies that pack considerable emotional weight.

Choruses like, “The closer I get, the further I have to go to places we don’t know,” from “You and I” or, “Every night I ask myself, am I giving enough? Am I loving enough?” from “Colombia” particularly stand out.

The sequencing of “Hummingbird” is also of interest. The first three songs, most notably “Ceilings,” are catchy and rhythmically diverse, drawing the listener in for the slow burn of the rest of the album.

The middle third is at first the weakest part of the album but gradually opens up on repeated listens. These songs build slowly but do not always traditionally peak.

“Hummingbird” ends with a three-song run of what might be Local Natives’ strongest material yet. “Mt. Washington” builds a haunting ambience around cyclical guitar and the phrase “I don’t have to see you right now.”

“Colombia” and “Bowery” are two stark, powerful ballads that perfectly close out the record with sophisticated, evocative imagery.

“Hummingbird” is the kind of sophomore record that most bands strive for. It is by no means perfect and demands repeated, close listening, so it may not be for everyone. That said, it is an extraordinary and vital indie rock release.

Rating: Three out of four stars.

Story: COLIN MOORE, A&E Reporter