Album Review: "Hummingbird" by Local Natives

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L.A. indie rockers, Local Natives, burst onto the scene in 2010 with their debut album Gorilla Manor – a collection filled with memorable choruses, impressively hypnotic harmonies and pulsating rhythm sections comparable to other indie heavy weights such Arcade Fire and The National. Despite early success, however, the band saw its fair share of personal tragedies in the three years between Gorilla Manor and their sophomore effort, Hummingbird. Following the much-speculated departure of bassist Andy Hamm and the death of front-man Kelsey Ayers’ mother, the band decided a change was needed, both in location and sound. The now four-piece group headed out of L.A. for the first time to record and produce in New York with the National’s Aaron Dessner manning the soundboard. The result was Hummingbird, an immersive, introspective and ultimately vulnerable album focusing on overcoming grief and the pains that go along with it.

The album begins with “You & I,” which Ayers takes the lead, building off of swelling synth and reverberant guitar strokes to reach a poignant chorus (click links to listen to the full songs). 

The third track from the album, “Ceilings,” takes the band in a new direction, combining acoustic finger-picking with piano and sees singer Taylor Rice discuss the inability to let go at the realization of a relationship’s end.

urlThe real standout from the first half of Hummingbird has to be “Breakers,” perhaps the only song on the album that harkens back to Local Natives’ original sound. The track, focusing on insanity, is guitar based and sees more technically impressive rhythm sections and definitely sounds more fully developed than many of the other tracks found on Hummingbird.

Between “Breakers” and “Colombia,” the tenth song on the album, there are no real studs, although “Wooly Mammoth” is sonically interesting and dynamic. “Colombia,” written for Ayers’ mother, delivers a simple chorus as he croons, “Every night I’ll ask myself/ Am I giving enough? / Am I loving enough?” Perhaps the most heartfelt song to be found, it delivers wonderfully through its simplicity and although it may not be Ayers’ best vocal performance, his pain is truly felt through each note.

It seems that with Hummingbird the band has taken a step back from itself, deciding to open up to a new range of songwriting possibilities and fresh displays of musical ability. The guitar and drum sections, which were the driving force of Gorilla Manor, now give way to blend both with the synths and pianos as well as the still unique vocal harmonies. While maybe not as sonically driven as their previous effort, Hummingbird still delivers a thoughtful, sincere portrait of songs that captures the bands direction moving forward.

 

-Connor Small