Local Natives are a band with a contrarian bent. Their music hasn’t received the widespread attention it deserves, but has critics weak in the knees. You’d think that their next priority on Hummingbird, their second album, would be to transform that critical appeal into a wider fan base. However, this seems to be the last thing on the LA four-piece’s collective mind. They have eschewed a wider, brighter, poppier sound for dark, legato grooves. Vocalists Kelcey Ayer and Taylor Rice soar above a thumping rhythmic backdrop, whilst guitar parts pirouette around their harmonies.
The unconventional nature of their rhythmic tendencies makes comparisons with Dirty Projectors impossible to ignore. However, where DP’s music can be obtuse and obscure, jerky and uncomfortable, Local Natives seem far more relaxed and honest, despite having drums like a cardiac arrest. Openers ‘You & I’ and ‘Heavy Feet’ demonstrate this admirably, with laid back vocals accompanying upbeat and anthemic orchestration. However, this hyperactivity can get in the way of the music. You only realise how crowded the music is when the band strip it back, as they do at the start of ‘Black Spot’. This is the band at their most powerful and emotive, accompanied most by a single, stabbing piano part. It’s a shame that they use the song as one long crescendo into their usual tricks. This is an opportunity wasted.
A second problem with the record is that it tends to lapse into stylistic repetition; that is, it all sounds the same. After 45 minutes with Local Natives, I couldn’t really tell whether I’d heard 11 songs or one song with a shifting tempo. This is an inherent risk with groove-based music, but it is also fatal. It weakens the impact of the album, making even the moments where it really works seem cheap and boring. If Local Natives want to appeal to anyone other than the editors at Pitchfork, they’d better learn to change their tune, literally.