I know we’re all supposed to be applauding creative growth and musical self-improvement, but actually sometimes it’s quite nice when a band releases a second album of similar calibre and content as their first. Local Natives’ 2010 debut Gorilla Manor was a critical love-in, poised perfectly to absorb all of the excitement everyone was feeling for the Animal Collectives and Fleet Foxes(es?) of the time, reflecting contemporary influences but chopping and changing enough between them to creative something distinctive. Hummingbird is more of the same, but with a bigger heart.
If Gorilla Manor was the rave, Hummingbird is the morning after. The same people (roughly) make the same sounds, but the mood has shifted. No more giddy madness and wild abandon; this is introspective, calm, more meaningful. Hearing the album streamed over iTunes meant it was delivered as if one long track, which actually felt quite natural. The Local Natives sound never changes hugely from track to track and, listened to in its entirety, it’s one huge swell of sound towards its tenth and penultimate track, Columbia.
The upbeat songs on the album such as Mount Washington and Black Balloons have a lightness which keeps the album buoyant, but its strength lies in those moments of self-reflection, in the quieter corners. Heavy Feet has some beautifully melodic vocal lines, an infectious rhythm and even some un-irritating clapping; it’s one of those songs you feel sure you’ve known forever because it does everything you want it to, at just the right time. It’s understated, vibrant and open-hearted all at once.
But Columbia is where the album takes a step apart from the rest. Local Natives are not known particularly for their distinctive lyrics and emotional intelligence, but this song changes that. The song is an appeal to Kelcey Ayer’s mother, who passed away during the making of the album. He tells her, ‘If you never knew how much, if you never felt all of my love,/ I pray you do now’, and asks her memory, ‘Am I giving enough?’ It feels like he’s exposing his bare bones and his darkest thoughts; you don’t need to know what the song is about to feel his fear and grief.
Produced by Aaron Dessner of The National, the album feels self-assured and together. Local Natives make lovely, honest music which doesn’t exclude. It invites you in. And it might make you cry a bit.