If Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes hadn’t meshed psychedelic keyboards and acoustic guitar before, Local Natives would be on to something.
“Hummingbird,” the indie rock band’s sophomore album, expands upon rhythmic patterns that made 2010’s “Gorilla Manor” too predictable. Constant use of pounding drums and jangling strings give the album a central theme that ties the songs together.
Deploying an almost Who-ish technique, each chord receives a single strum under the lyrics of “You & I.” The song ends with a collection of screeches until the chorus claps reigning through “Heavy Feet” resonate. Track two’s minimalist bridge seems like the end.
Soon drums kick so hard the floorboards cave.
The album’s first four songs follow one-after-one in a way that makes differentiating difficult. Listeners who enjoy beats strong enough that lyrics hide under them will admire this aspect; appreciators of impressionable words will fall asleep out of boredom. If anything, a disregard for lyrics separates Local Natives from Fleet Foxes and other prominent, contemporary folk acts.
“Breakers” is the first single for a reason. The chorus is top-40 worthy and a gorgeous, spacious instrumental break follows. “Gorilla Manor” featured nothing as exciting, and this song moved me unlike any of Local Native’s other work; with “Breakers,” “Hummingbird” gains momentum.
The five emotive, manic ending songs contrast entirely with the album’s first five tracks in a wonderful way. Guitars produce power chords where they sent slow, organic noises before, and singer Taylor Rice releases all that built up in his lungs during early, calmer songs.
Eventually Rice’s words are even audible.
Yes, vocals unheard for nearly eight songs appear in “Woolly Mammoth.” “In the summer, vicious summer/this is nothing like I thought it would look,” Taylor belts. A bass riff on par with The Black Keys’ latest toe-tappers accompanies decent lyrics, and a guitar solo—rare for indie rock—captivates and makes “Woolly Mammoth” as solid as “Breakers.”
However, the ambitious solo shows one thing Local Natives lack: a niche.
Although many prominent alt-indie bands sound similar, the exceptional acts specialize in one area that makes them memorable. Animal Collective dabbles in exotic genres of music; Deerhunter lets loose slaphappy bass. Local Natives sit stuck in the confines of atmospheric tones that sound good in doses but make an 11-song album a daunting listen. Even indie music can be as generic as chart-topping pop when trends arrive.
“Hummingbird” ends as it began, with dramatic builds, and anyone who hasn’t fallen asleep may feel déjà vu. With the exception of “Bowery,” the album’s second half is strong, and rearranging the songs for mixed tempos would’ve been nice, rather than stacking similar-sounding songs together.
Local Natives must search. Hints in regards to enhancing their repertoire may lie in uncovering new instruments, experiencing for songwriting or finding entire genres. Without some sort of boost, they won’t be remembered because “Hummingbird” is forgettable.
Final Rating: Three out of five suns