In the bleak throes of a Canadian winter, it’s always a pleasure to have an album that acts as a pseudo-blanket while it quells your anxieties and warms your heart. After sitting with Local Natives’ stunning new record Hummingbird for over two weeks, I can safely say that those who listen to it will derive comfort from it in the same way that Linus did from his treasured blue blanket.
The quartet composed of Kelcey Ayer, Ryan Hahn, Taylor Rice, and Matt Frazier has not contentedly rode the wave of debut Gorilla Manor, but rather experienced highs and lows; they toured with the National in 2011, but also parted ways with bassist Andy Hamm. As if that wasn’t enough, the band had to grieve the passing of Ayer’s mother last summer. Four years of touring the world coupled with personal trials has evidently left its mark on the group, and Hummingbird is no exception. The album is indelibly marked with a sorrow and sensitivity that one would expect from a person as old as all the member’s combined. Whereas their first release found them wavering on the border of adulthood and indifferent to it all (‘Who Knows, Who Cares’), the new record reflects a newfound maturity.
The band enlisted the National’s Aaron Dessner to produce the album, and the guitar virtuoso did an incredible job. Breakers’ — the closest thing to a true single on the entire album — is an attack on the senses with Frazier’s pulsating drums driving the track forward while Ayer sings about enjoying “cold cereal and TV”, which might be a nod to their fellow Californian, Kendrick Lamar. On ‘Three Months’, Ayer sings “I’m ready to feel you”, as if to accept the burden of mourning his mother, but his tender tone elicits thoughts of a budding romance finally being consummated.
‘Heavy Feet’ is a shining example of the vocal prowess that Ayer and Rice assert when harmonizing, but ‘Columbia’ stands out as the best track. Here, Dessner seems to have informed them how to build a song up and have it crash down on an unwary listener as the National are so prone to doing. The tension gradually builds at a frustratingly slow pace until the cathartic ending where a torn Ayer cries “Am I loving enough?” and you gasp and suddenly realize you were clenching your fists and holding your breath the entire time. The experience is akin to stepping into the shower only to notice that the water is freezing, but its oddly refreshing. Overall, Hummingbird is an outstanding sophomore effort that cements the West Coast group as a band that has taken its obvious influences and shaped them into something nuanced.
The band is playing a 19+ show at the Phoenix in Toronto on March 28th, and tickets are still available (see you there). But if you’re currently broke or underaged, here’s a teaser of the band’s upcoming collaboration with La Blogotheque for their Soirée de Poche series: