Local Natives, Hummingbird

Eric Harvey

By Eric Harvey

on 01.25.13 in Reviews
Turning moments of terror into something sublime

If Local Natives’ howling 2009 cover of the Talking Heads’ itchy, self-conscious “Warning Sign” wasn’t clue enough, there is plenty of anxiety lurking beneath this LA quartet’s smooth exterior. On Hummingbird, which improves on its predecessor in every way, the band’s hootenanny harmonies are dialed down and the production values increased, all to heighten an uneasy emotional core. Though Taylor Long’s mile-wide tenor earns comparisons to Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell, and there’s a resemblance to the National’s button-down production sheen, what sets Local Natives apart is a sui generis approach to eerie scene-setting. “Black Spot” summarizes this approach: opening with a solo piano that sounds like a shivering ghost playing “Chopsticks,” the song deliberately builds toward an aching crescendo. On late-album highlight “Colombia,” Long reacts to the death of a family member with a heartbreaking and rare combination of grief and self-doubt: “Every night I ask myself/ Am I giving enough?” Primary among Long’s able assistants is the band’s drummer Matt Frazier. He unsettles Long’s anguish on the opening track “You & I” with a knees-and-elbows approach similar to the National’s Bryan Devendorf, and on “Wooly Mammoth” and “Breakers” he creates the effect of ocean waves crashing onto a beachfront. This is the crux of Hummingbird‘s rare achievement: when moments of terror become something sublime.