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CD Reviews | Style & Culture

Album Review: Local Natives, ‘Hummingbird’

It must have been tough being an indie band with a new release during the past week — My Bloody Valentine announced a comeback album that was 22 years in the making on Jan. 27, so there’s no way anybody was spending time or money on a record that wasn’t “MBV.”

Local Natives came out with their second release just two days later, and if it was pushed aside and forgotten during “Shoegaze Daze 2013,” that’s a real shame: “Hummingbird” deserves its fair share of attention.

Their sophomore effort has already been called more atmospheric than its predecessor, and the group definitely sounds more like Wild Beasts than Fleet Foxes this time around. While their first album was expansive in an Appalachian Mountains sort of way, “Hummingbird” comes off as more technological, like it was recorded in a studio rather than on the bank of a secluded pond that reflects the moon’s light and surrounding trees.

This is not to say it sounds as though the group is relying on technology to produce a good result. If anything, Local Natives sound more natural than ever.

The chorus of the opening track, “You & I,” is different from the opening verse, but the transition between the two is smooth, almost sneaking up on you.

What this album has that their first one lacks — or at least doesn’t have as much of —  is big, anthemic, U2-like moments. At about two thirds of the way in, the song explodes with a jungle rhythm and warbling guitar that could fill a stadium.

Not only is the album multifaceted, but individual songs wear many masks as well. “Ceilings” is as pretty and gentle as anything released by M. Ward, but when you pay attention to the percussion, it becomes clear the tune is also an aggressive headbobber.

It seems like some of the melodies on this record are so simple and beautiful that you wish you had thought of them first, but they come across as unique. That’s a sign of a great melody: The catchiness makes it feel like you’ve heard it before, but it’s also brand new, like a childhood memory you just remembered. It sparks your brain, and you have this great, new thing that feels like it’s been there all along.

Words like “atmospheric” and “introspective” are typically associated with slow-paced, low-key music, so using them to describe this album is somewhat of a misdirection. Musically, the group is as upbeat and energetic as they’ve ever been. The aforementioned terms seem to apply more in a lyrical sense.

In “Ceilings,” singer Taylor Rice opens with, “Hold the summer in your hands, ‘till the summer turns to sand / We were staring at our ceilings thinking of what we’d give to have one more day of sun.” That’s poignant stuff, but it’s hard to be sad with the pretty and upbeat instrumental scoring those words.

There are times when the music matches up with the melancholy of the words. In “Three Months,” a somber piano-based ballad, Rice sings, “You always hated every gorgeous coffee cup / You could never see them / That to him they meant the world.”

This is, perhaps, a message from a person outside of the relationship he is addressing, saying to the girlfriend that it sucks when the guy and girl don’t see eye to eye or share the same passions, even when it comes to something insignificant as mugs.

Is this advice Rice wishes a past girlfriend of his had been given because he wasn’t strong enough to break off a dying relationship, or is he offering this advice to another couple? Either way, it’s something to think about. Or you could just enjoy how gorgeous the song is.

“Gorilla Manor,” their first album, was criticized for coming out after a slew of similar-sounding albums by groups like Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes. That ended up being nothing more than an observation made by journalists — fans enjoyed the album because it was good.

The same is true here, except it doesn’t sound like they’re ripping anybody off this time. It’s fair to draw inspiration from your influences early in your career, but trouble comes when you get stuck in that habit and don’t produce anything original. “Hummingbird” is 100 percent context-free and is as catchy, if not more so, than Local Natives’ impressive debut.

So stop playing “MBV” for a second and check this record out.

Grade: B+