Three years ago, in my first lazy summer with my record player, I purchased Gorilla Manor, Local Natives’ debut album. This came after much internal arguing, “No, they sound too much like Fleet Foxes!!” “But “Airplanes" is so good!!!!" In the end, the album didn’t redefine anything in the indie rock soundscape, but their youthful, excited lyrics and raw talent resonated with me more than the convoluted metaphors of other bands (Looking at you Dave Longstreth.)
Now, Hummingbird arrives and with the addition of producer Aaron Dessner (guitarist of the National), Local Natives are still being compared to other bands, namely the National (can they get a little more original?) and Arcade Fire. Here’s the flip-side though: like any maturing band (surprise!) Local Natives are deepening their songwriting ability and have crafted a much more beautiful and heartfelt album.
The first single, “Breakers,” displays a new eye for instrumental detail. Before, their songs were structured around complex and lush vocal harmonies. In “Breakers,” a guitar line starts with a strong strum but, signified by the title, by the end sounds as if the strings are about to snap after being played so harshly. Meanwhile, there is a mournful wash of synthesizer and a propulsive drumbeat going on underneath. Sure, the chorus is an addition to the wordless moans that owe tribute to “Wake Up,” but to reduce the song to that comparison is to ignore the other aspects.
In other songs, Local Natives have learned how to play to their ample strengths, namely their lyrics and vocal talent. “Three Months” has one of the simplest and touching lines in recent memory: “I’m letting you know/ I’m ready to feel you.” Coupled with this earnest and shy line, Kelcery Ayer (who believe is their main vocalist, though they all share vocal duties) carries his voice into the sky, as if he is calling out from the top of a mountain, affirming this loved one of his commitment. You may be able to crib sounds, but you cannot steal smart flourishes such as this.
Later in the album, “Mt. Washington” uses the repetition of a simple guitar strum coupled with a soaring vocal to convey a feeling of rejection. The narrator is staring at his ceiling and longing for his loved one. No matter how hard the object of his affection tries to get rid of him, our narrator will still wait singing out “I don’t have to see you right now.” Feelings of yearning permeate this album; gone is the youthful exploration of the previous album. Now it is replaced by the uncertain grappling with the uncertainty that a life with loss brings.
While some songs do sound similar, Local Natives don’t seem to be interested in changing the indie rock landscape. Sometimes the goal for indie music isn’t in finding a true mark of “originality” or “freshness”, but rather to pen down lyrics and stories that comfort the rest of us in our dark times. They are just four dudes who write great songs reminding the rest of us: “hey, remember when you lost that? We do too.”