“A collection of bruised, battle-hardened songs that progress the band on from sun-soaked vocal harmonies…”
Local Natives | Hummingbird
Across their 2009 debut Local Natives offered solid, if rather unremarkable, slices of afro-tinged, harmony-drenched Californian sunshine. Their group vocals, spearheaded by co-frontmen Taylor Rice and Kelcey Ayer, mixed with raw production and an audible gang mentality meant it became a record that was greater than the sum of its parts. By the band’s own admission the recordings were “messy”, with friends often staying in the studio for days to join in the process, using instruments borrowed or bought from the nearest thrift store.
Unfortunately for the group these rose-tinted good times soon became more complicated. Two relentless years were spent on the road, bassist Andy Hamm left the group in 2011 and the death of a family member rocked a group that had been, up until this point, a byword for summer-soundtracking indie jams. Storm clouds had not only gathered, but positively burst open on top of them.
From this comes Hummingbird. Decamping to Brooklyn to record in The National’s Bryan Dessner’s home studio, with Dessner producing, the now four-piece allowed the experiences of the last few years to bleed into the new material. The result is a collection of bruised, battle-hardened songs that progress the band on from sun-soaked vocal harmonies. It is the latest in a line of indie bands – from The Horrors to Foals and The Maccabees – to ‘grow up’ gracefully.
It is the record’s lyrical content that most obviously showcases this progression. Throughout, both vocalists muse upon the type of questions that usually only come up during times of trouble. ‘Am I giving enough? Am I loving enough?’ pines Ayer on the beautiful, thoughtful ‘Columbia’. ‘Thinking what we’d give to have one more day of sun’ he croons on the plaintive, mid-tempo ‘Ceilings’. Even on the musically chipper ‘Black Balloons’ things aren’t quite what they seem, with Ayer again worried, ‘Circling vultures always overhead, force your hand, every day is life or death’.
Elsewhere, the gravitas of Dessner’s day job seems to have rubbed off on the band. ‘Black Spot’ swells from humble beginnings into a giant wave of clattering drums, throbbing piano and slabs of harmony. The gorgeous, stripped back ‘Three Months’, in which Ayer again shows off his devastating falsetto, is quite possibly the most emotionally naked track they’ve ever put to tape. The closing track, ‘Bowery’ roars to life, gently toying back and forth between dynamics before squalling to its climax.
That’s not to say that Hummingbird is an overly world-weary listen. ‘Wolly Mammoth’, with its pounding drums and reggae-lite keyboards, is a shot of pure adrenaline in the arm of the listener, while previous singles ‘Breakers ‘ and ‘Heavy Feet’ both crack and fizz. ‘Mt. Washington’, an acoustic driven, echoey number, is both driving and delicate at once. Such a potent range of emotions and tempos means that Hummingbird never becomes predictable.
Having been through such hardship, this is the sound of a band regrouping with their scars out in the open. That Hummingbird is such a sure footed record is testament to the value of not only sticking together, but taking what life throws at you and coming out stronger. This is a majestic showing of strength.