Bristly acoustica bearded in melancholia is in a somewhat wearying abundance as of now, and nowhere is this more true than right here in this purportedly United Kingdom of ours. There are more Ben Howard equivalents and similarly grim sons of those vexatious brothers Mumford than Wychwood could ever accommodate for, and although they’re not exactly unsightly blemishes upon our rich and fertile British musical landscape they’re pests to its soils that, perhaps worst of all, appear to exist only to inhibit the progress of our more authentically, well, progressive artists.
There’s less of this over in the US of A by the seems of it, as the untied States embroil themselves in a contemporary fascination with the avant-garde which is all but entirely of its own making: queer rap, and LDR, and an itself somehow po-mo renaissance of late ’90s and early ’00s R’n’B. Silver Lake Local Natives of course couldn’t possibly correlate with any of the aforementioned trends – they’re too likeable to be likened to the insipid, exclusively waistcoated threnodies we’re becoming worryingly renowned for lifelessly churning out, whilst few could feasibly deem them to be outstandingly innovative. But they’re reliable; irrefutably enjoyable; and wholesomely turned out. And in Taylor Rice they possess one of the most arresting voices of recent times.
Though to insinuate that their début, Gorilla Manor, was without its moments of utterly breathtaking charm is to grossly undersell. Whether the Patrick Watson-esque swells of Shape Shifter or the off-kilt intricacies of Cubism Dream, it was a real ear-opener. It burrowed deep down into mine and resided there a while though that was already over three years ago. And as we’re discovering on a more or less daily basis, that’s a longer time to wait than it would’ve once been so it’s natural for the furore that once surrounded the four-piece to have quietened down a touch. Though if anything is to reawaken the hoo-ha then it’s the sound of Hummingbird fluttering away insouciantly in the background.
The appositely grainy texture to Rice’s vocal has since matured to an estimably fine vintage. That much is apparent, even from its subtle invasions of the unassuming instrumentation to opener You & I though musically too, Local Natives have indeed progressed. They at once sound at home in the sound they’ve expertly cultivated, or perhaps rather nurtured as one would a wounded bird over time and although the furniture has had something of an expected polish, beneath the veneer that same formula remains. The guitars that twinkle like that translucent gloss to temporarily coat the corneas of young lovers; harmonies comforting as chest hair; the cantering rhythms courtesy of an increasingly masterly Matt Frazier. Heavy Feet is an encapsulation of all this, and one which is far lighter than its leaden title may intimate as it floats upon a surging buoyancy. It may once more prompt the customary spray of Fleet Foxes comparison and despite being comprehensible, it’d maybe be contemptible were any influence to overshadow the band’s patent development.
Its penultimate track, 11:11, illustrates a vibrant implication of a more provocative, and more pertinently orchestral approach to come. Reminiscent of Efterklang’s immaculate Piramida, it’s audacious – both grandiose and retiring in its every sweeping strum, or billow of string – but above all, it’s so wholly unexpected that it couldn’t not startle. Ingrid, the record’s closer which follows is, by contrast, a divergence in a quite different sense as it’s enlivened by a mechanic, and almost artillery-like barrage of snares which, when pinned quite so high in the mix, threaten to gun down the song’s every other component. They’re incredibly staccato, and bring both the track and the album itself to an undesirously abrupt end.
Though inevitably, one oughtn’t judge an LP solely according to the points at which the needle is made to both heave and hoe, and over the course of Hummingbird Local Natives can be said to go the distance: Breakers, with its rippling moods and affected croon is arguably one of their most dexterous recordings to date, whilst Black Balloons recalls the pomp of latter-day Interpol enwrapped in a woolly fug of snugness. Wooly Mammoth then plods along behind an altogether elephantine chorus, whilst Ceilings could hold the entirety of Latitude rapt for long beyond its measly three minutes. Whether or not this and the considerably less appealing Wychwood are festivals even known to Local Natives is immaterial, for with two fully diverting full-lengths now under the band’s proverbial belt they couldn’t be better equipped to enthral our sullied fields. For Hummingbird is the sound of the Cali ensemble approaching the big(ger) time and if I don’t get to see a lonely lantern drift skyward to the elegiac tones of Bowery this summer, well, it’ll have been as unfulfilling a season as one bereft of Glastonbury – one they’ll undoubtedly know only all too well…
Released: January 28th, 2013 [Infectious]