Back in 2009, Local Natives made a beautiful album. The SoCal-based band defied the standards of indie rock and turned out Gorilla Manor, a collection of songs that drew on contemporary influences while still shining as a heartfelt statement. It was an album that insisted on indie rock’s staying power. Singles “Airplanes,” “Stranger Things,” and “World News” were triumphant and poetic, telling listeners that the formula perfected by bands like Fleet Foxes or Arcade Fire remained potent; and, through insistent earnestness and notable musicality, they could prove to be just as powerful as their originators.
Three years later, Local Natives sound almost exactly the same. Hummingbird, the second full-length from the band, is just as emotive and sensitive, and proffers just as many metaphors about the sun. For the sanguine indie-rock optimist, this might suffice; and yet, for those with high hopes of a progressive future for the band, it’s not quite enough.
Leadoff track “You & I” runs like a B-side from the band’s aforementioned debut—nostalgically catchy and relying on a strong vocal melody to mold the song’s seeping sentiments into a familiar tune—and the next few tracks follow suit. “Breakers” suggests the sort of percussive excitement that made “Camera Talk” or “Sun Hands” such compelling tacks on GM, but never gives way to the same kind of anthemic quality. Later in the record, songs like “Wooly Mammoth” prove too ambitious in volume, and lose their impact amid epic, roomy drum fills.
It’s still warming to hear Local Natives stripped down, with straightforward ballads such as “Mt. Washington” coming late in the album and delivering touching simplicity. Hummingbird is an album of hidden rewards, a record to pick and choose tracks from in order to purvey a single feeling or contribute to the perfect mixtape. What it’s not, though, is a cohesive, compelling whole.