If the cover of Local Natives’ sophomore album, Hummingbird, is to be believed, the band is at a bit of a precipice. Teetering on massive success following 2010’s Gorilla Manor, the group surprisingly doesn’t reach for the stratosphere or run for a blissful horizon, they instead take a step closer to the edge. And as Kelcey Ayer’s face on the cover will tell you, it can still be an enjoyable ride.
As the aforementioned Gorilla Manor seemed to reflect their gilded Golden State environs, what with their “Sun Hands” and seeing the world through their own “Wide Eyes”, Hummingbird reflects a more nuanced, less optimistic viewpoint as seen from Aaron Dressner’s (The National) New York home-studio.
And it’s not just the setting that’s darker. In between albums, bassist Andy Hamm left the group, and Ayer lost his mother, imprinting a moodier, more introspective sound. “We’ve just grown so much over the past two years and the record is going to reflect a much more expansive palette of sounds and… emotions,” the band told Pitchfork.
The tone is clear from the onset when Ayer wonders “where did your love go cold?” in a brilliant falsetto. But the band sounds full and resolute, therapeutically thumping out a proud, propulsive rhythm. “Heavy Feet” follows with an emotional elegy, rife with tight musicianship and lamenting lyrics.
Despite the more mature content, it’s not all dour and downers musically. The chorus of “Breakers” is a whoosh of energy and crisp handclaps, even if the lyrics belie their intentions. “Breathing out, hoping to breathe in. / I know nothing’s wrong, but I’m not convinced,” Taylor Rice belts.
“Wooly Mammoth” arrives just in time with a more progressive and edgier sound. The song explodes into a harmonized clearing of a chorus (“There’s a sun, rising. / Steady now, comfort me”) before resolutely fading away. But moments like this are the exception, as the band again pulls back the reins for the beautiful “Mt. Washington”.
Hummingbird is not Gorilla Manor II. It’s a grower; a smart, confident step in a dark direction for a young, talented band. Let’s enjoy watching them pull themselves up from the ledge.