Before fun.‘s resounding success, L.A.‘s Local Natives seemed like the band predestined to fill the space in mainstream radio’s heart for high-energy alterna-pop. Their blend of typically West Coast, sun-drenched melodies and sensitive indie musings played like the kind of formula meant to quickly scale charts, and their self-funded 2010 debut, Gorilla Manor, was just polished, smart, and unexpected enough to lay the groundwork for a globe-dominating sophomore effort. Hummingbird, however, is no such thing: Mournful, quiet, and largely introspective, Local Natives have revealed themselves to be more Grizzly Bear than Coldplay, retreating into the lonely cavernousness of their deft, delicate harmonies while attempting to move away ever so slightly from a clean pop aesthetic.
Still, Local Natives’ music retains its inherent listenability. Despite its differences with Gorilla Manor, Hummingbird isn’t a challenging or experimental album by any means, instead offering a host of moody, chasmal tracks characterized by trickling, chiming melodies and vocalist Kelcey Ayer’s resilient falsetto. The light-as-air “Ceilings” boasts an intricate spider web of nimble guitar and percussion, while “Breakers” lives up to its name, layering wave upon wave of rolling sound over handclaps and a hiccuping beat. The band often employs percussive motion and speed to deliver a sense of urgency, as on “Wooly Mammoth,” where bass, guitar, and synths move in unison to emulate the sound of a tolling bell, or on “Black Balloons,” a double-time march with deep piano strikes bookmarking the song’s transition from verse to chorus. Throughout the album, guitars are used creatively and in a myriad of ways, either deftly mimicking electronic instruments or acting as another nebulous layer of lush atmosphere.
While there’s nothing as immediately engaging on Hummingbird as Gorilla Manor‘s “Wide Eyes,” the album compensates with beauty and seriousness. Local Natives’ effort here is workmanlike, resulting in an incredibly sober, blue-collar indie pop that sacrifices flash and gloss for substance and meaning. It’s a rather astute pivot, proving the band is much more intelligent and intuitive than its simple SoCal medleys once suggested.