LOCAL NATIVES – Hummingbird (Infectious)

Packaging first. The vinyl issue of this album comes with a die-cut outer sleeve, two fold-out posters (one with the lyrics), heavy-weight vinyl in a gatefold sleeve, and a code for a digital download. Already I’m impressed, and I haven’t even played it yet. This album actually has a lot to live up to, as their debut ‘Gorilla Manor’ was a particular favourite of mine, and coming out, as it did, around the same time as Fleet Foxes first, I always linked the two bands together. Fleet Foxes second album came out a couple of years ago, so what have Local Natives been up to in the last four years? Well, bassist Andy Hamm left, and then the whole band upped sticks and moved east to be with producer Aaron Dessner. These two things on their own should not have had a huge impact on the band’s sound, and Dessner has stepped in to augment the band after Hamm’s departure, so it should be business as usual. ‘You & I’ certainly opens the album as if they had never been away, with Kelcey Ayers’ vocals blending with the rest of the band’s harmonies, straight away taking me back to that debut. ‘Heavy Feet’ ups the tempo, but the band never really break a sweat on any of their songs, so while the song has a driving rhythm, the band can still inject a catchy chorus into the slower parts. ‘Ceilings’ is the sort of song that you only need to hear once before you can sing along to it. The tune is effortlessly memorable, and the band put in a superb performance. ‘Black Spot’ is an odd little song, with the music veering from the barely audible to a full-on band, and Ayers’ vocals similarly going from a whisper to a scream. On first hearing it might sound a bit out of place on the album, but it only took a couple more listens for it to become a firm favourite. Previous single ‘Breakers’ was a good choice to prepare people for this album, and you can hear the progression that the band have gone through on this track in particular, where Fleet Foxes give way to Arcade Fire as a major influence. ‘Black Balloons’ shows how much the band have come on in the past four years, as I could picture this fairly heavy, riff-led rocker being a folky acoustic number a few years ago, while the chiming guitar and relentless rhythms of ‘Wooly Mammoth’ help make it another album highlight. Taylor Rice takes lead on ‘Mt. Washington’, and while his vocal style is subtly different from Ayers, it still becomes part of the band as a whole and fits in perfectly. The centre-piece to this album in undoubtedly ‘Columbia’, written as a tribute to Ayers’ mother who died while this album was being made. Obviously intensely personal, Ayers uses the song to celebrate his mother’s life, and not just to mourn her passing. In doing so he also ends up asking himself some important questions, ‘Every day I ask myself, am I giving enough, am I loving enough?’ Dessner adds some surging strings to heighten the emotion, but doesn’t overdo it, so it never becomes mawkish. The song ends up as one of the best the band have come up with, and just proves that when you write about real life it gives you an edge over the ‘moon/June’ lyricists. Perhaps they should have ended it there, but they decided to add one more song, and ‘Bowery’ closes the album with a loose arrangement on a slight track, but while the harmonies are out in full force, and we are treated to a rare guitar solo, it still ends up being a shadow of what has come before. Don’t let that put you off, though, as up until this point the album has been a roaring success, and a worth follow-up to one of my fave albums of the last decade.
You & I