It seems funny to start thinking of such things so early in a calendar year, but I'm going to call this right now. Local Natives' second album Hummingbird is going to be one of the best records you're likely to hear all year. It's not perfect, but it's as close as you could hope for from a sophomore effort. While its charms aren't always immediate, the infectious and hazy melodies are persistent.
2009's Gorilla Manor certainly had its moments, but Hummingbird's strength is the overall quality and confidence of the material. Bringing to mind the grandeur of Beach House's Bloom, the soaring vocals and impressive drumming creates a fascinating aural tapestry. Bringing in The National's Aaron Dessner as producer certainly hasn't hurt either. Perhaps that's why the loss of bassist Andy Hamm isn't acutely felt throughout Hummingbird. Instead, Dessner shifts the focus throughout to Local Natives' ample strengths.
Opener 'You & I' demonstrates one of those early on, with Taylor Rice's lyrics. Lines like; "And I woke up with my green eyes blue" are loaded with melancholy. Coupled with falsetto delivery, there's an emotional hook for the listener almost instantly. While the instrumentation is subtle and dreamlike at times, the drums provide the essential heartbeat to the 11 tracks, as guitars and keyboards drift in and out of focus. Lead single 'Breakers' is a highlight as it unleashes an array of instruments, handclaps and harmonies that build to an almost deafening crescendo. But the quitter and more contemplative moments like the piano that underpins 'Three Months' are just as memorable.
That's perhaps why Hummingbird is seemingly so successful in its execution. While it feels like a positive gear change for Local Natives, the songs also stay with you long after the record is finished. That's again partly due to the lyrical content. One example is 'Bowery' which includes the ominous but attention grabbing line: "You can't tell if the ceiling's rising, or if the floor's falling out." It's a dreamlike image that's also a subtle reference to earlier track 'Ceilings'. Occasionally, the narrative feels a little fanciful ('Wooly Mammoth'), but, musically, the record rarely seems to lose its way.
'Colombia' poses the question; "Am I giving enough?" Taking that sentiment out of context, it seems that Local Natives are more than giving enough. They've reached a level of sophisticated and intelligent indie rock within two records that more established acts struggle to achieve. Hummingbird is a record that you'll be more than happy to return to, and its few faults are more reassuring than anything else. They reveal a band that's still perfecting their sound, but one that's confident enough to reveal those flaws as they do so. Hummingbird also isn't the type of record that's aimed at garnering mainstream success. Instead, it cements Local Natives reputation and starts to pay off on the promise shown by their debut.