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Local Natives – Hummingbird

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Local Natives - Hummingbird

Artist: Local Natives
Album Title: Hummingbird
Label: Frenchkiss Records/Infectious Records
Release Date: January 28th 2013

Los Angeles-based indie rock outfit Local Natives consist of Taylor Rice (vocals, guitar, keys), Kelcey Ayer (keys,vocals,percussion,guitar), Ryan Hahn (guitar, vocals, keys), Matt Frazier (drums) and Nick Ewing (bass). The group’s sophomore effort, Hummingbird, immediately evokes feelings of struggle and emotional angst with it’s opening track “You & I” and sets the stage for a more matured, broad and somber sound compared to that of Gorilla Manor (2009), Local Natives bright and energetic debut album. Hummingbird is dedicated to Ayer’s mother, who passed away in 2012 while Local Natives began to create their follow-up record. With only this hardship to take with them into the production of Hummingbird, the band set out to pour it’s collective hearts into one of the most emotive and powerful albums of 2013.

“Heavy Feet” highlights Frazier’s ability to create well-rounded, captivating drum tracks that are exquisitely cohesive with the group. The track surges and subsides as the listener rides waves of glowing synth and breathtaking three-part harmonies. “Ceilings” the shortest track on the album, welcomes us with a stirring yet somber acoustic melody, which is shortly layered with rolling percussion and sweet vocal harmony. “Black Spot” plunges us into an even darker and more desperate place than previous tracks, gripping our hearts and diving headfirst into the sorrowful place in which Hummingbird is rooted. Lyrically, the track recounts thoughts of confusion and of fear, “ …And if I didn’t know to be afraid, the faces make me sure that I do now..”.

Next we come upon foot-stomping and hand-clapping-friendly track “Breakers”, while still in keeping with the album’s theme, brightens the mood ever so slightly and calls to mind the liveliness and youthfulness of Gorilla Manor. Rice’s stunning tenor is brought to the forefront on the track, and is supported by Ayer and Hahns’ equally impressive soaring vocal acrobatics. “Three Months” is the first song to begin telling the story of Ayer’s recent tragedy, that is of his mother passing while in the process of creating Hummingbird. It is made clear that this unfortunate and mournful circumstance is the passion and soul behind the album, and Ayer’s haunting falsetto certainly does an exemplary job of driving that home for the listener, “…I’ve got to go on now; having thought this wasn’t your last year.”

Hummingbird continues to lead us on through the dark, never once letting go of our hand. “Black Balloons” and “Wooly Mammoth” exhibit the band’s ability to keep the listener absorbed; with upbeat tempos, cacophonic drum tracks and swelling harmonies.

The record closes with my favorite two tracks, and some of the best tracks they have written as a band to date. “Colombia” is the flagship song on the album, and is the heart-wrenching lament of Ayer’s mother and her passing. You can practically hear Ayer leaning into the mic, each word a little more desperate than the last, each word a pure and unfiltered message of love and of the confusion that comes with such an enormous loss, “…If you never knew how much, If you never felt all of my love. I pray now you do…”.  A frantic stirring of strings gives us an eerie backdrop in discord as the song builds to an intense climax. Ayer closes with a final keening plea to his mother, “…Patricia, every night I ask myself, am I loving enough? Am I?”. “Bowery” is no less impressive, and acts as an excellent curtain-drop track on the record. The song features similar structure to that of many songs on Hummingbird, that is, it builds progressively to a climax. Frazier never fails to provide wonderful color and an expertly coordinated beat pattern, and he certainly doesn’t let up on “Bowery”.

Perhaps Hummingbird wasn’t the record previous fans of Local Natives were expecting the group to produce… However, it doesn’t matter. The result is something that is both musically stunning and undoubtedly an admirable labor of the heart.

Review by James McGill

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