Posted on February 7th, 2013 (8:00 am) by Paul Rice

If someone who had been living under a rock for the last twenty years was given a laptop and a few hours to research recent trends in indie music, hipster stereotypes, and general coolness, and was then asked to create a fictional band that embodied it all, the band would probably be the Los Angeles-based Local Natives. Their perfectly timed 2009 debut, Gorilla Manor, drew from Grizzly Bear's haunting vibe, the frantic drumming of The National, the harmonies of Fleet Foxes, and Vampire Weekend's peppy afropop guitars, stitching it all together with an easy, affable nature that made them hard not to like – unless you're the kind of listener who hears all those selling points and starts to get suspicious. Their singer even has a big mustache, for God's sake.

Hummingbird is Local Natives' second album, and they're gunning for that skeptical fan. It's a smoother, more nuanced listen than Gorilla Manor, less a patchwork of hot ideas and more a unified piece. Gorilla Manor was a cartoon band's cartoon album, with instruments all drawn in bold lines and primary colors, everything clearly distinguishable and easy to absorb. The first five songs, each memorable and excellent, saved the album from sounding too derivative and earned it some shelf life. On Hummingbird, the instruments blend beautifully and organically, and the album feels more focused. While there's clear stylistic development, Hummingbird boasts nothing as catchy and quirky as “Airplanes,” nothing as aggressive as “Sun Hands,” and none of the wide-eyed exuberance of “World News.”

On first listen, Hummingbird comes off as a concentrated effort to build on the sound of “Shape Shifter,” a fine song from Gorilla Manor. Songs like “Heavy Feet,” their first single, "Breakers," and “Wooly Mammoth” all build up to rushing choruses where harmonized syllables stretch dramatically over crashing cymbals and rolling drums, supplemented by indistinct blobs of melody. Taken on their own, they're great, but they can be pretty hard to tell apart within the album's context. Many calmer tracks, like “Ceilings” and “Black Spot,” inhabit interesting, brooding atmospheres, but they too blend together, and they tend to taper off without reaching satisfying conclusions or build up to that same climax the other songs have been passing around.

Whereas Gorilla Manor was clearly front-loaded, Hummingbird actually feels back-loaded. “Mount Washington” conveys the most emotional gravitas by far, aching with something between guilt and loss as Taylor Rice repeats “I don't have to see you right now,” with ever increasing weight. “Columbia” starts mild and builds itself up steadily, culminating in desperate, honest cries of “Am I giving enough?” and “Am I loving enough?” while the music boils and grumbles like The National in full tension-building mode. “Bowery” closes the album with a musical freakout, evoking the percussive blasts and calm, arpeggios of Radiohead's King of Limbs as a guitar wails and strangles itself over the whole thing.

The end of this album is great, and it proves Local Natives have a lot of creative juice and musical chutzpah left in them. In fact, the whole album is objectively pretty decent. It would probably be a lot more enjoyable if the first five songs of Gorilla Manor weren't so damn satisfying. Hummingbird is well played and well recorded, but these minor improvements aren't enough – Local Natives fans expecting the spontaneity, variety and quality of the first album's front half will be disappointed.

Track List:
1. You & I
2. Heavy Feet
3. Ceilings
4. Black Spot
5. Breakers
6. Three Months
7. Black Balloons
8. Wooly Mammoth
9. Mt. Washington
10. Columbia
11. Bowery

Local Natives Hummingbird Album Art
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

68 / 100
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