Album Reviews

Local Natives – Gorilla Manor

(Infectious) UK release date: 2 November 2009

Local Natives have made a summer record with a winter soul. The Silver Lake, California group’s debut album, Gorilla Manor, swells and sinks in a sort of sun-soaked cacophony that rivals the best sort of symphony while harkening back to the hazy hippy days of Southern California’s beach bum past. And it all works together to tremendous effect.

The obvious Ra Ra Riot comparisons aside, Local Natives use strings and pianos, lush vocal harmonies, and blindingly powerful percussion to create a swell of sound that rises and falls like the ocean’s tide, and evokes images of lazy days and low-necked sweaters. The music, to that effect, is both intelligent and emotional, and its production has a sort of not-too-polished charm that makes it all the more endearing.

Gorilla Manor opens with Wide Eyes, a reverb-thick, percussion explosion about looking evil, or good, or whatever, in the face; the importance here is firsthand credibility regardless of the possibility of impending doom. Taylor Rice sings, “Oh, some evil spirit/ Oh, some evil this way comes.” A grim outlook for the rest of the album, it would seem, but not to worry – the music inspires far more grins than grimaces.

The opening measures of Airplanes feature tinkling piano and the unexpected sound of the band members grunting and yawning loudly, evoking images of post-hibernation bears or friendly monsters awakening and stretching after a long winter’s nap. As the song builds into a driving march, the music’s imagery is visceral, conjuring a California panorama of slatted sunlight through redwood branches. The lyrics maintain a sense of longing, here over lost love and mortality: “It sounds like we would have had/ a great deal to say to each other./ I bet when I leave my body for the sky/ the wait will be worth it.”

The album’s standout track is the group’s first single, Camera Talk, which explodes in a bombastic tom-and-snare assault, leading into a symphonic string arrangement and droning guitar distortion. Taylor Rice’s vocal here is refreshingly laid back and thick with an optimist’s melancholy: “It’s all right/ the camera’s talking/ and even though I can’t be sure/ memory tells me that these times are worth working for.” The vocal harmonies on the chorus, as on the rest of the album, rival anything Fleet Foxes have come up with to date.

World News is reminiscent of The Walkmen‘s Dond� Esta La Playa, but with lush Beach Boys-esque harmonies, which often crescendo into jubilant falsetto, and happy nonsense monosyllables, all building to a rollicking hillside cacophony saturated in sun and reverb. Shape Shifter is a moody – but jubilant, always jubilant – foot stomper with some Sigur R�s leanings, once again managing to sweep and sway despite its brooding lyrics: “Psycho, you killer/ you cancer…/Why don’t you give me an answer?”

Who Knows Who Cares opens nicely with some introspective questioning: “You figure it out / I can’t stay / Water’s in the clouds / Is my life about to change?/ Who knows, who cares?” The half-time groove gives way to feverish drumming and the strings return full-force, rising and swelling along with impeccable vocal harmonies. The song continues to build throughout, perhaps becoming too loud for its own good, but the trip is so lovely and challenging, Local Natives can be forgiven for reaching too far, and by the time the noise collapses back into sullen wailing and quiet piano, any misstep is forgotten.

Cubism Dream trips through at a nonsensical gallop, and in Warning Sign, rice injects Ronettes-style soul into the seemingly trite line, “Come on, baby,” like he means it. Cards And Quarters is a haunting minor-key lope, and the album’s penultimate track, Stranger Things, features a string section hook reminiscent of The Most Serene Republic‘s Humble Peasants. Here, Rice laments, “Went away, holiday/ Wish they’d linger on.”

Local Natives have made a stunning debut, feeling simultaneously familiar and challenging, and presenting a sweeping collection of tracks that are at once cinematic and sonically lush, swelling and serene. Gorilla Manor manages to linger on like the best sort of lazy afternoon, lifting spirits like a warm and fleeting pull from a flask on a bitter evening. This one’s not to be missed.

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More on Local Natives
Interview: Local Natives
Local Natives @ Scala, London
Local Natives – Hummingbird
Local Natives – Gorilla Manor