Can Local Natives escape the dreaded sophomore slump on their new album Hummingbird?
You don’t get much more indie than if you self-fund your first album and name it after the house where the entire band lived in a dormitory-style arrangement while the album was being written.
California-based Local Natives proved with the organic and heartfelt sound on that first album, Gorilla Manor, that they are proud of their bootstrapping roots, but it’s with their second album, Hummingbird, that they’ve shown they are more than just their struggle. They have evolved both as individuals and as a band, but have still left some room in the equation for further growth in the future.
That said, maturity comes at a price. Those who were expecting a repeat of the catchy hooks so readily available throughout Gorilla Manor are likely to be disappointed, as much of the happy-go-lucky nature of the band’s early material has been discarded in favor of more serious, thoughtful songwriting. Right from the first track, “You & I,” it becomes clear that there is pain here, heartbreak and emotional distress that can only be assuaged by getting those feelings out through song.
It’s an interesting choice for an album opener, perhaps an effort to manage expectations right away and set the bar for a different level of connection with the listener.
The edginess only deepens as the album continues, and by the time the fifth track, “Breakers,” rolls around, the somber mood is apparent even to casual listeners. Lines like “stare down my nose, watching the color drain from my eyes / cold cereal and TV before I go to sleep” speak of loneliness, anxiety, and even full-blown depression. Whatever it is that’s happened to this band over the past couple of years, it’s clearly been a rough road.
The frank admission of this, though, has really paid off for the band in terms of gaining fans and critical respect. The album got as high as number 12 on the Billboard chart, a huge improvement from Gorilla Manor’s peak at number 160. Although their fan base may be slightly different now given the change of mood and songwriting style, Local Natives have clearly made a decision to go with transparency, to allow their deepest issues and emotions to come out in their music. It was a risk that could have gone either way, but on this occasion it seems to have been the right choice for the band.
Sophomore albums are always tricky, but Hummingbird is even trickier than most. The album has left Local Natives fans sharply divided, with some wishing they could have had a continuation of the first album instead. However, the changes the band has gone through with Hummingbird were probably necessary to open up a road for a potential third album, and that shows that Local Natives are already thinking about a long-term career instead of just going for a quick fix, and that is a move deserving of both praise and respect. The fact that the songs are so touching and meaningful is simply a nice bonus.