Local Natives (Frenchkiss Records, 2013)
If Martin Mull is right and “writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” then there isn’t much point to the music review. Except sometimes there are albums that are so structural the only thing we have to do is write our way up the scaffolding for the best view of the thing. This is the case with Local Natives’ sophomore album Hummingbird.
Hummingbird positions the band solidly in the firmament of fellow shoe gazers Fleet Foxes, Animal Collective, and The Shins. Their first album, Gorilla Manor, was well received and garnered them comparisons to folk kings Mumford & Sons. But with their latest offering, Local Natives have turned inward for a quiet sound more reminiscent of Sigur Rós than the bouncing swells of Mumford & Sons.
The album opens with “You & I” and establishes early on a trend of prioritizing melodies over hooks. In less resonant or confident hands this could be a problem, but a committed listener is rewarded with a fully developed listening experience that is not about its parts so much as its sum.
Hummingbird isn’t afraid to take its time, to become something great without worrying about its many soft moments of ache. The greatest risk of the album is its slow burn, but the rewards are many. Toward the album’s end, the beat and the emotional refrain grow with the song “Columbia.” Lead singer Kelcey Ayer wails, “Every night I ask myself/Am I giving enough?” and then “Am I living enough?”
This is an album to listen to in the car at night with a friend you’ve known for a long time. But let it be a warm night. Let the windows be open. Let your arm rest on the windowsill and let your hand float up and down with the wind and Local Natives as conductor. And try to hold on to the lovely, aching melodies as they climb higher and higher beyond the skyline.
This article appeared in the May 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 5, page 42).