Soundcheck: Local Natives’ Hummingbird
BY MYKEL VERNON-SEMBACH —
Rating: 4 / 5
Best Tracks: “Heavy Feet,” “Breakers” and “Black Balloons”
Like a fine wine, Local Natives has greatly improved with age. Since 2012, this four-man band has hid away, concocting yet another beatific vision of audible liquor by the name of Hummingbird. Beautiful and dreamy as always, Local Natives tone down their percussion and rhythmic vocal loops only to gain on their post-production string work. Guitars take center stage — as usual — without competing with the other instruments, making for a relatively quiet and personal album.
The album’s starter track, “You & I” is much different from Gorilla Manor’s first track, “Wide Eyes.” While most of their songs are personal and involve some reference to a previous other, “You & I” is direct and confessional: “Believe me / And I woke up with my green eyes blue / and all I think about is you.” Honest and confrontational, “You & I” becomes a bitter and ironic reference to all the similarly titled songs that imply closeness and unity; it’s a pretty rough start to an album called Hummingbird.
Hummingbird follows up with the track “Heavy Feet,” a more romantic perspective of parties than of the average party anthem by Ke$ha or LMFAO. “You were holding a styrofoam cup / Held between your teeth / Telling me how you’re going to outlive your body;” if that’s not inspired drunk conversation, then what is? Local Natives give a pleasant live-in-the-moment aspect to this rather depressing chance meeting.
This continues through the Matt Pond P.A. inspired “Ceilings” and to “Black Spot,” which are both lyrically nice, but a bit sleepy.
The album’s increased tempo does not occur until halfway through the album at “Breakers.” With falsetto “ooh oohs” and handclaps — c’mon! Handclaps, guys! Who doesn’t like a good handclap? — “Breakers” is a beautiful analysis of late-night neurotic overthinking — another strange mixture of poppy come-what-may instrumentals with unsettling lyrics.
“Black Balloons” keeps Hummingbird upbeat with basic percussion and chorus vocals, while leaving behind any use of chords on the lead guitar. While musically coherent, “Black Balloons” follows a Sigur Ros-esque gobbledigook, making for a pleasant singalong, even if singing “I look for a friend that’s flashing for a box” doesn’t make sense.
Local Natives ask rather accusatory questions of themselves in “Colombia,” as they chant “Am I giving enough?” and “Am I loving enough?” This can be an immensely abrupt realization for those who decide to sing along, forcing the audience to question if they themselves are enough.
Local Natives have recorded a more abstract, melodramatic album, at least compared to their previous album, Gorilla Manor. In three years, the band quickly went from writing songs about traffic jams (“World News”) to using lyrics such as “Lazy summer goddess / You can tell a whole empire / I don’t have to see you right now” to express indefinable contempt of past discretions.
Hummingbird is most definitely an emotionally demanding record, requiring patience and attention. Fortunately, the album saves itself some singles to permit as background tracks to studying or driving. Despite its overbearing melancholy, Local Natives’ Hummingbird is a thoughtful album in an age where thought isn’t considered much in music, at least by consumers.