Local Natives Gorilla Manor Album Review

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LP Giveaway details at the end of the review.
Local Natives
Gorilla Manor
Frenchkiss Records
out February 16th

84/100
[Rating Scale]

404

One of my closest friends and best music aficionados just can’t get into the Local Natives. He doesn’t like the tribal chants at the opening of “Airplanes,” the name-dropping of NPR during “World News,” the obvious Fleet Foxes, Dodos, and Talking Heads influences. His overall assessment is that Local Natives are too manufactured, that they are trying too hard to be “indie.”

Funny enough, I love the Local Natives for the exact opposite reason: they’re so full of real emotion, so genuine, and so passionate. And more than anything else, they make great music.

Gorilla Manor is full of instantly memorable tunes and melodies, from the opening group harmonies in “Wide Eyes” (“oh some evil spirit, oh some evil this way comes”) to the heart-wrenching chorus in “Airplanes” (“I love it all, so much I call, I want you back”), to the rollicking breakdown amidst the rickety drums of “Sun Hands” (“And when I can feel with my sun hands, I’ll promise not to lose her again!”). And that’s just tracks one through three.

Speaking of those rickety drums, Gorilla Manor is one of those rare albums where the drums truly stand out. The whole way through, percussionist Matt Frazier keeps the listener on edge with constant, frenetic ticking and rattling, more creative with each and every song.

But make no mistake, the defining feature of Local Natives is their dual frontmen. The combined voices of Taylor Rice and Kelcey Ayer sound full of Fleet Foxes lead singer Robin Pecknold’s sweetness and smoothness. But the two also each have a pinch of Dodos lead singer Meric Long’s punchiness and edge, allowing them to balance between fragile, delicate ballads and loud hard-rockers, sometimes within the same song (see “Sun Hands”).

The band can get boring, at times, when they get too carried away with their choir sound (think Grizzly Bear’s beautiful mess, Yellow House). “Cards and Quarters” is a weak ballad placed mid-album that lags and drags as, well, your typical weak Grizzly Bear track would. Repetitiveness is occasional too, as “Warning Sign” shamefully reuses the opening guitar line from “Wide Eyes,” and then uses it for a much more boring and underdeveloped song.

But sometimes the “boring” song just needs some time to develop. The first minute of “Shape Shifter,” for instance, is not promising, but the band makes the wait worth it. Once the song hits its stride, after the mere minute it took to grow, it becomes a beauty of a builder, with ringing Afro-guitars and powerful group wailing.

So many influences come up as the album progresses, and some of the album’s most brilliant moments come when those influences fuse together on the same song. “Camera Talk,” for example, has shades of Arcade Fire and Ra Ra Riot with its strings, a bit of The Strokes with its crunchy opening guitars and drum beat, and even shades of old-school Motown when the song hits it’s soulful breakdown.

The band is also proving to be very good, already, at mixing up instruments. They know when to implement the soft, delicate piano, when to cut the drums down and leave it up to the vocalists (as they do so nicely on the lush “Cubism Dream”), when to throw in that extra swirl of strings. The gorgeous “Who Knows Who Cares” makes good use of those strings, that piano, and places an electric guitar and some blaring horns on top.

The Local Natives are at their best, always, when all 5 members are singing together. “World News,” the building, triumphant anthem of the album, showcases the group’s ability to harmonize, create beautiful melodies, and passionately sing as a unit. It’s a remarkably polished and perfected track for a band’s debut album, and only one of many on Gorilla Manor, an incredible first step for what is sure to be an incredible band.

Average Reader Rating: 84/100
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