Local Natives are in the midst of a new maturity. After listening to the band’s sophomore album Hummingbird, their debut album sounds youthful, summery and brash. With time the band’s outlook has become darker, more uncertain and much more vulnerable, and a few tracks demonstrate how much more earnest Local Natives has become. “Three Months” feels like it was written in the aftermath of Gorilla Manor’s “Airplanes”: while both tracks convey desire for another person, “Airplanes” expresses that desire in a boisterous, almost childish fashion as it repeats the chorus, “I want you back.” “Three Months” maintains the same yearning, but takes a more grounded approach: its chorus repeats “I am ready for you now.” A similar switch happens in the tracks’ different instrumental impulses. Whereas “Airplanes” is a catchy march—with a positive tone that seems somewhat removed from desire—the backdrop of “Three Months” is devastatingly sincere. Taylor Rice sings grittily and with a falsetto reminiscent of Sharon Van Etten, who has used the producer who helped with Hummingbird. The subtle backdrop, combining piano and percussion, comes across as bruised but beautiful. It’s a feature that extends throughout most of Hummingbird, and Local Natives have developed instrumentation that more intimately connects with their lyrics.
Beyond the band’s new emotional maturity, they seem to have also become more confident experimentalists. While recording Gorilla Manor, Local Natives were concerned about making songs that could easily be performed live, but the band has discarded that inhibition and started taking more creative liberties. Opener “You and I” sets the tone for the album with its mesmerizing instrumentation. With the track, the band has stepped away from the staples of folk rock and created something that more readily fills a stadium. The arrangements are orchestral: there are fewer individual guitar riffs and drum solos, but the series of vocals and instrumentals better resonate and integrate harmoniously. The sound pulses but never frantically and maintains a continuously moving and evolving soundscape. Their lead single, “Breakers,” is a good example. It starts off like a track from their first record—folk-rock guitar riffs and upbeat drumming—before crashing into a soaring and full-bodied chorus, a surprising but gratifying affirmation of something new. It’s a bold step for a band that attained a solid fan base for their driving, youthful indie rock vibe.
The album does have its moments of frustration—moments when Local Natives have yet to fully incorporate their new maturity. “Black Spot” has a nice build up, but it lacks candor and its vocals and instrumentals don’t fit well together. “Mt. Washington” feels sluggish, drones on and doesn’t go anywhere. These miscues, however, don’t distract too much from the album’s brilliant moments. “Wooly Mammoth,” which starts feverishly with piano chords and continues into a determined and cascading chorus, represents the best musical synthesis I’ve yet heard from Local Natives. “Colombia,” too, is stirring, and it achieves where “Black Spot” failed. Lyrics like, “Am I loving enough?” and “Am I giving enough?” grip the listeners with a glimpse into the underlying uncertainty that weaves throughout the album. “Colombia” leads directly into the final track, “Bowery,” a chilling piece with disconnected harmonies and distortions. It’s a fitting conclusion to another solid Local Natives album, and it’s a testament to where they’re headed.