Local Natives’ debut album, 2009’s Gorilla Manor, earned the LA four-piece a great deal of praise, as well as numerous comparisons to artists with similarly high-pitched lead singers, like Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear. Yet apart from the vague vocal similarity, Local Natives’ first LP was a luscious and emotionally powerful outing, which showed an abundance of maturity from such a new band. Kelcey Ayer and Taylor Rice’s sumptuous vocal harmonies combined wonderfully over the band’s sun-soaked percussion and delicate strings.
On paper, the band’s follow-up, Hummingbird, should surpass their debut record. Co-produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner and with a wealth of experience gained from touring with Arcade Fire under their belts, Local Natives would appear to be in the perfect position to continue on an upwards assent. However, it’s not all been plain sailing since the release of Gorilla Manor, with the band parting ways their bassist Andy Hamm after six years. The split could have derailed the Local Natives – as it has affected so many bands before them – but Hummingbird more than lives up to the initial promise.
The band’s sophomore album is a clear progression from Gorilla Manor, retaining the soaring harmonies from their debut, while experimenting with a more expansive and emotive sound. Dessner’s influence is very noticeable from the off, with album opener You & I combining effortless vocal harmonies with swelling guitars and a subtle beat. It’s followed by the driving beat of Heavy Feat, which sounds as though it’s been influenced by The National’s Bloodbuzz Ohio – albeit with significantly lighter vocals. As a result, the song is one of the strongest on the album, with its beautifully bittersweet melody enhanced by the lyrics, as Ayers sings: “Maybe I know better than to read more than what’s there.”
Local Natives are a band that wear their heart well and truly on their sleeve and this becomes more and more evident as Hummingbird progresses. No more so, than on Colombia, where Ayer deals with the death of his mother through the poignant lyrics: “A hummingbird crashed right in front of me, and I understood all you did for us.” The repetitive piano keys alongside the singer-keyboardist’s heartbreaking falsetto is enough alone to portray the raw emotion behind the composition of the song. However, while the album is often quite deep lyrically, Dessner has helped the foursome explore more upbeat melodies.
Black Balloons is a perfect example of Local Natives favouring an effervescent sound, with its buoyant guitar riff complementing the heavenly vocals. Then there’s the infectious Wooly Mammoth, which sees a frenetic beat during the verse break into a big, sing-a-long chorus over expansive guitars. Yet the most impressive aspect of Hummingbird, is the band’s ability to create so much feeling without it ever sounding forced. Breakers sounds natural as the patient verse transforms into the grand, sweeping chorus, while the simple acoustics and sporadic, throbbing piano keys of Mt Washington are both affecting and pulsating at the same time.
The second album is always considered to be one of the toughest for a band to overcome, but from start to finish, Local Natives’ return demonstrates that they are in complete control. This is confirmed by Hummingbird’s closer Bowery, a triumphant conclusion to an album from a band constantly looking to push themselves. Local Natives could have easily fallen into the trap of repeating their debut album, but their follow-up shows they have much loftier ambitions. Hummingbird may not be as instantly likable as Gorilla Manor, but its seductive beauty and emotional pull is virtually impossible to resist. Local Natives just keep on getting better.