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Album Review | Local Natives’ ‘Hummingbird’ falls short of expectations

Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 01:01


The second studio album from Los Angeles indie rockstars Local Natives, “Hummingbird,” is as dainty and fidgety as the animal that lends its name to the title. This album, the long anticipated follow-up to the band’s marvelous debut “Gorilla Manor” (2009), seems to lack all of the inventiveness, eagerness and melodic brilliance that made the group’s debut attractive and exciting. Instead, “Hummingbird” favors predictability and generically pleasing alternative phrasing over originality. The album is not offensive, and it’s not even bad. In fact, it sounds rather nice. But do you know what also sounds nice? Babbling brooks, nature ambiance and white noise, and soothing monotony do not an indie-rock band make. “Hummingbird” falls into this category of sound. A stagnant and dreary sophomore album, “Hummingbird” is a let down and a reminder of the dangers of the sophomore slump.

This devolution is not unfounded. In 2011, the band’s bassist, Andy Hamm, made a dramatic split from the group and, just this past summer, lead vocalist Kelcey Ayer’s mother passed away. Not to be indelicate, but these traumatic and life-altering situations are often used as fodder for bands to explode into genuine and potent sound. However, this trauma had the opposite effect on Local Natives. This album is steeped in pretentious melancholy and garnished with Local Natives’ trademark and tired percussion-based tricks. The choppy, pseudo-tribal drumming that was so instrumental to the success of “Gorilla Manor” has become belabored. This is not to suggest that an artificial transition from the voice they crafted in their debut was desirable — indeed, sophomore albums are typically perfect contexts for bands to refine and explore their voices in a collaborative and safe environment. Instead of refining or exploring,  however, Local Natives have seemingly given up all hope of ingenuity and cleverness. The band has transitioned from a highly inventive group to one that is content with somber odes and predictable chord progressions. Its members have almost become parodies of their former selves.

This album is especially disappointing because most of the music is devoid of heart. “Hummingbird” lacks even an inkling of sincerity, and songs could desperately use some feeling. One exception to this rule is the song “Colombia.” Heart-wrenching and touching, the song deals with Ayer’s loss and sorrow. Driven by lyrics like, “If you never knew how much/ If you never felt all of my love/I pray now you do,” the song is a tour-de-force of grief and nostalgia. However, this tiny ray of light is not enough to redeem the album en masse.

The song “Breakers” seems more like a bastardization of beachy class act Best Coast than something plausibly written by Local Natives. Working with a new collaborator, Aaron Dessner from The National, Local Natives have adopted a slew of new producers and contributing songwriters for this album. Perhaps these figures are to blame for the stark difference between “Gorilla Manor” and “Hummingbird.” Whether it is the fault of new collaborators or a lack of ambition within the band, Local Natives have lost their unique and relevant voice, and it is a shame.

At times overproduced and at other times completely lazy, “Hummingbird” is an amalgamation of everything that a successful band should not do on its sophomore album. It is predictable, tedious and, above all, boring. Local Natives, a band that appeared in the indie music industry in a flash, have become too comfortable with their elevated position. If this album is any indication of Local Natives’ future, it’s safe to say that they will quietly make their way into musical oblivion as quickly as they made their mesmerizing debut.

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