words by JEAN-LUC MARSH
Hummingbird picks up where Local Natives’ previous effort, the acclaimed Gorilla Manor, left off. It follows a formula that worked before, and continues to work, retaining the group’s sublime, lofty harmonies. What has changed over the course of three years however, are the lyrics. Hummingbird is an album that turns inward, exploring more introverted territory than its predecessor.
Emotions are front and center on opening track “You & I,” in which lead vocalist Kelcey Ayer asks “Where did your love grow cold?” Before the listener is given a chance to process this candid question, Ayer proceeds to the next line, realizing “The closer I get / the farther I have to go / to places we don’t know.” The Sisyphean futility of Ayer’s lyrics is a gloomy indicator of what is to come on Hummingbird, as it delves deeper into an emotional abyss, buoyed only by lush instrumentation and cathartic harmonies.
“Heavy Feet” is one of the most upbeat tracks on Hummingbird, featuring drums, guitar, and even clapping. However, listening beyond this optimistic melody reveals the inner grief that subtly dominates each song on the record. The chorus is composed of “After everything, after everything / Left in the sun, shivering / After everything,” with each repetition of “after” being protracted, reflecting the feeling of forsakenness encapsulated in the lyrics. Despite this, “Heavy Feet” is a song of cleansing. Ayer’s angst is released to the heavens through the harmonies, ridding him, at least for a moment, of the emotions that previously haunted him.
Fourth track, “Black Spot,” begins with frenetic piano, soon accompanied by Ayer’s voice, sounding more distraught than before. His voice enters and leaves the song, but the piano remains; an unsettling foundation resembling his anxious mental state. Soaring harmonies enter the song after the three minute mark, overpowering the piano, in a conquest of sound aided by electric guitar. Ayer’s mental demons have been banished for now. “Breakers” is welcome at this point in the album, both for its familiarity and its fluidity. Between its grandiose harmonies and crashing cymbals, lyrics expressing fatalistic fears return, commandeering the chorus. “Breathing out / Hoping to breathe in / I know nothing’s wrong, but I’m not convinced,” cries Ayer, succumbing again to an overwhelming tide of emotion. “Black Balloons” starts out with an infectious rhythm, intensifying after the chorus and expanding into something electric. But it is when the guitar is stripped down and lightly strummed, that it can be most appreciated. Ayer’s voice is left alone to utter a lone line before the build-up begins, restoring the rhythm to the deliciously ebullient guitar riff of before.
It is penultimate track “Columbia” packs the largest emotional wallop on Hummingbird. Written in the aftermath of the death of band member’s mother, the lyrics are intensely personal. “Every night I’ll ask myself / Am I loving enough?” wails Ayer before the melody fades into distant siren sounds. The simplicity of the lyric belies its emotional depth. “Columbia” goes beyond the emotional abyss explored in the previous tracks, diving into the darkest, most despondent trenches of our hearts.
If there is one thing that Hummingbird lacks, it is immediacy. There is no instant gratification. At first, the eleven songs melt together into an indie rock haze, punctuated by riffs of guitar and howling harmonies, but with time, patience, and a second listen, the album reveals itself to be something much more complex. Local Natives’ have remained constant in their melodies, but their lyricism has matured, becoming at once refined and poignant. It is this lyricism that forms the heart of Hummingbird, often steering the songs on a course independent of the rhythm, heading towards the inevitable emotional shipwreck. Hummingbird explores the aftermath of this wreckage, stumbling across the seafloor and occasionally reaching for the surface, yet always being pulled back down. It is this cycle of futility and human effort that makes Hummingbird so compelling, and so much more rewarding the second time around. [B+]
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