Local Natives take flight with ‘Hummingbird’

Barry Winslow

It is incredible how musical genres become less apparent and more difficult to pinpoint over time — perhaps this makes new artist finds more amusing and fun to listen to today.

What remains true, though, is how acts like Local Natives have a keen way of blending genres that we are familiar with into something new, fresh and seemingly simple at first listen, but are seeping with subtle aural complexities.

Local Natives, a four-piece indie rock band hailing from Silver Lake, Calif., is a perfect example of this multi-genre framework.

Comprised of guitarists Ryan Hahn and Taylor Rice, keyboardist Kelcey Ayer and drummer Matt Frazier, the band bursted onto the indie rock scene in early 2010 with their eponymous and highly regarded debut, “Gorilla Manor.”

Drenched in fluid three-part harmonies with Hahn, Rice and Ayer all handling vocal duties and catchy, clink-ity drum hooks, “Gorilla Manor” easily rivaled such similar releases as Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut and Grizzly Bear’s “Veckitamist.”

However, they were also grounded to a sound that was purely their own and identifiable.

The hits from “Gorilla Manor,” such as “Wide Eyes” and “Sun Hands,” received attention on radio stations and caught the ears of new fans by playing nine shows at the 2009 SXSW festival in Austin, TX.

The band set out on a European tour in 2011 as the opening act for the ever-popular Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros.

Taking a bit of time to breathe after their 2011 tour, Local Natives has returned with their second album, “Hummingbird,” released on Tuesday, Jan. 29 on Frenchkiss Records.

Where “Gorilla Manor” was surprising, upbeat and melodic, “Hummingbird” finds itself more soft-spoken, smooth and dream-like.

Matt Frazier’s drumming is a focal point in the band’s sound, as it has always been at the forefront and as equally important, if not more so, than the vocals themselves.

The band has definitely matured on “Hummingbird,” as the band is less sporadic with their song structures and seem more confident in their musical direction.

The mastering and recording is much cleaner, which gives the entire album an astral and glassy tone.

The first track, “You & I,” creeps into existence with echoey guitar layering that blends into simple piano chording and Rice’s distinguishable soprano vocals. Very similar to the marching drums and reverberated landscapes found on Grizzly Bear songs, the track finally breaks free of its drumming pattern and free falls into a colorful array of atmospheric guitars and brass horns.

The second tune, “Heavy Feet,” starts quietly, relying on quick and staccato snare taps and gradually molds into a liquid smooth vocal harmony over atmospheric electric guitar lines.

The fifth track, “Breakers,” is the album’s high point, as Rice and gang take vocal harmony to new limits.

Layers upon layers of dreamlike harmony stretch and bend through galactic synth tones and crazy looping guitar fills. This is the definition of technicolor vocal splendor and is the best track I’ve heard from the group yet.

“Black Balloons,” the seventh song, is a cut constructed around a very simple, airy guitar pattern and is backed by a hefty base of deep organ fills. The songs builds in strength until finally halting atop visceral guitar shrieks and blasting vocals.

The ninth track, “Mt. Washington,” is a gentle acoustic track that floats dreamily along a cloud of clean guitar effects with wiggly repeats and Hammond organ notation. Rice repeats the line “I don’t have to see you right now/ I don’t have to see you right now” and puts the song to rest as peacefully as it started with a lengthy fade out.

The eleventh and final track, “Bowery,” is yet another peaceful tune. Sophisticated drumming is again at the forefront, and another harmonious vocal attack drenches the songs high end.

Screeching, yet soft guitar patterns rise from under Rice’s vocals and speed along without a sense of normalcy or predictability — a perfect way to end this dynamite collection of tracks.

Local Natives is a force to be reckoned with. The band has come such a long way since 2009’s “Gorilla Manor,” which is quite the feat in itself as “Gorilla” is a magnificent debut.

Fans of Local Natives will likely be blown away with what this album has to offer, even if at times it can get a bit soft-spoken and heartfelt.

If you are a fan of the music by Grizzly Bear, Bon Iver, The National or Fleet Foxes, then “Hummingbird” should most definitely find its way into your car’s stereo system — just be sure to roll down your windows so others can hear it, too.