Despite changes, Hummingbird is no sophomore slump

[pullquote1 quotes=”true” align=”center”]Indie band Local Natives return with enthralling, inspiring second album
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BY JULIA BYRNES ’13
Contributing Writer

Released this past Tuesday, the long-awaited Local Natives album, Hummingbird, does not quite contain the energetic and darting movements we associate with the bird. Rather, Hummingbird exposes raw sorrow through droned-out vocals and instrumentals in a meditative form. When a sample of fans were asked, responses towards Local Native’s new album fell under the lines of “it’s decent” or “Hummingbird is good, but Gorilla Manor was great,” and to be honest, I was also unimpressed in my first few listens of the album. I was expecting the catchier quality of “Airplanes,” the sprightly chants of “Sun Hands.” However, after another listen without these previous expectations, I was able to detect a level of maturity exhibited from this sophomore album masked behind the great level of patience each song expects from its listeners.

Manor proved that this L.A. indie band is capable of being popular, but Hummingbird brings to the surface the serious meditations that only underlie and weave within the background of their first album. What remains consistent are Kelsey Ayer’s trademark vocals that strain in a plea to be understood and their intentional imperfections that give the naked rawness inherent in support each of the band’s tunes.

As an enormous fan of Gorilla Manor, yet subject to the norm of immediate gratification, I had given up after 2010, 2011 and 2012 came and went without signs of a follow up. However, what I was lacking has proven to be a consistent element when approaching this sophomore album: patience. Unlike the instant satisfaction gained from “Airplanes,” Ayer uses each song of Hummingbird as a cleansing experience. Struggle is prevalent throughout the album, yet there is also a desire for understanding. It is through the patient meditation found in the ballads that are sprinkled with more upbeat melodies that sustain but also strain both the attention and hope of the listener. We aren’t asked to wallow in a pit of misery with Hummingbird, but rather, to contemplate the things that mean most to us and to search for understanding.

Based on Gorilla Manor, our expectations rested in their similarities to Arcade Fire and Fleet Foxes, so I suspect the somber introversion of Hummingbird will disappoint devout fans. Although they remain true to quirky harmonies and reference the keyboard and clap sequences of Manor, the timbre of Hummingbird is deeply rooted in introversion. Additionally, the lyrics of Hummingbird, although as vague as Manor, are certainly more personal. Despite defeating my expectations, there still remains the quiver of Taylor Rice’s vocals beneath that grand mustache and Kelcey Ayer’s somber, yet reliable wail. Their vocal accompaniment on either end is respectful and patient, therefore accomplishing a melodic medium between contrasting contributions.

Perhaps it is the frankness of Hummingbird that throws the audience off guard at first listen. However, both Manor and Hummingbird are serious albums. A great deal of their songs have tremendous undertones that range beyond the tragedies of romance and unrequited love we find so common in music today. The spare lyrics certainly do not deprive or diminish their impact.

It is also here that we are shown the process of understanding and healing in the ambiguity of the lyrics. There are clear expressions of pain, but also a confusion and comprehension that fluctuate throughout the album’s entirety. This is where the degree of maturity is also expressed, and what I have grown to love about Hummingbird. Local Natives draw the audience in with this exposure of human weakness and reflects the struggle of internalizing and dealing with loss.

Although doubt is prevalent, listeners are brought into this journey of recovery. In the track “Colombia,” a dedication to Kelcey Ayer’s mother who passed away in 2011, he states “Every night I ask myself, am I loving enough?” Ayer lets us into his struggle, and this exposure of honesty lets us into his development towards healing, and encourages us that there is more to come. Although diverting from our expectations, this album is genuine. Whether it is memories of life or reflections of death, Hummingbird lets us into this battle of self-understanding, if we are willing to commit.

The album reflects the process of painful self-reflection, a mature leap from their initial recognition within the indie music scene. Hummingbird asks for a relationship between listener and each track. Local Natives draw their audience into the now, forcing listeners to contemplate. Through each listen, the audience gains a personal connection to the song in return. The listener has to be motivated to understand the depth behind the album for it to give back a satisfactory response.

Every time I go through the full album it becomes my own. Hummingbird is not only an exposure of personal expression from the band members, but it is a personal experience for the audience as well. The process of contemplation begins with the track “You & I,” providing a backbone for the rest of the album. A lot of Hummingbird draws from the speaker’s perceived insufficiencies. In “Breakers,” we gather from the lyrics this struggle with obsession and failing in all actions he takes. There is a fear evoked in the lines “breathing out, hoping to breathe in” that emphasizes the speakers ability to put things out there for the world to grasp, yet is unable to take in the world around him.
The immense contribution of The National’s Aaron Dessner serving as production assistant for Hummingbird may have something to do with the slight directional turn of their sound towards something resembling The National or Bon Iver. Regardless, Local Natives went willingly.

In an interview about the new album, Kelcey Ayer went on to explain their reasoning for the title em>Hummingbird, “They’re so fragile that if they stop beating their wings for more than 30 seconds they die, but then seeing them is such a powerful image.” The pace of the album reflects this caution of speed; the tempo changes gradually and the lyrics are dragged out in harmonious chant. This follow-up album expresses the progression towards fearlessness in exposing Ayer’s introversion.

[three_fourth]So would I recommend Hummingbird for your next rager? Probably not. But I encourage the satisfactory personal experience it brings. I hope that for those who do give the album a listen, that they are patient, and let their experience become their own. Keep all tracks in mind, but ones to look out for are “Colombia,” “Breakers” and “You & I.”[/three_fourth]

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Review Rating:
B+
Natives provide a vivid, personal experience for their listeners.

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Questions? Email Julia at jbyrnes@fandm.edu.

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