When Local Natives brought us their debut Gorilla Manor in 2009, they produced an album into whose every pore the sun had seeped and which established a golden standard for serene harmonised chants and delicate melodies. These virtues persist on Hummingbird but in an altogether more sudbued assembly. The album is the product of myriad changes, developments and adjustments – whilst Gorilla Manor was self-funded, recorded and produced, for the follow up the band took on outside help in the guise of The National’s Aaron Dressner, whose influence pervades the deconstructed, slowly expanding arrangements.
In the life spanned between two records, they have lost a band member, endured the disintegration of personal relationships, grieved for a family member. Lyrically, Hummingbird is infinitely more intense and emotionally charged. The songs seem like steps in a therapeutic process in which intimate, personal distresses are explored and fashioned into heartbreak ballads and songs for the dead. Characteristic percussive quirks and sunny, soaring vocals temper the cathartic lyrical content with a melodious levity (“Hold the summer in your hands/ Till the summer turns to sand”). Opener ‘You & I’ sets a precedent of insistent, pulsing drum patterns (reminiscent of tour mates Arcade Fire), upsurges of guitar reverb and the bathing warmth of Kelcey Ayer’s pure, soulful vocals, which gradually build to sweet falsettos beneath warm brass undertones, and could be considered a dazzling high point.
Songs such as ‘Breakers’, ‘Black Spot’ and ‘Heavy Feet’ are comprised of multiple, filmy layers – ruptures of frantic, lightly beating drums are coated with serene guitar lines, frenetic piano chords, slowly building snares – and adorned with ambient, ethereal flourishes. As a whole, Hummingbird is a heartswell; the vocals build to soaring, head-dizzying harmonies as the lyrical content reaches unabashed emotional crests and accordioned arrangements unfurl.
A peak is indisputably reached with the tingle-inducing ‘Colombia’, an elegy to Kelcey Ayer’s mother and a harbinger of the end of the eponymous hummingbird’s flight. “Every night I ask myself / Am I giving enough / Am I giving enough / Am I giving enough / Am I?”: such devestating lyrical candour is matched with pared back piano and the feeble heartbeat of a drum to deliver a poignant sucker punch. Granted, Hummingbird is no great departure from its predecessor and nor is it particularly pioneering. Its sound benefits from vestiges of the orchestral dream pop of Grizzly Bear, the ritual percussion of Arcade Fire, the gentle delicacy of the National but its merits and the songs within are subtle in effect. Listening feels like bearing witness to the slow but special growth of a band coming to a great fruition.