Music generally serves two purposes for the avid listener. The first is self-evident: there is a sense of euphoria—an ineffable flood of emotions—that one gets from listening to a great tune. The second may be less obvious: music acts as a social currency. We get a feeling of enjoyment from sharing a new song with a friend and we use music to define ourselves as individuals and bond in the collective. In and of itself, Hummingbird, the new album by Local Natives, is beautiful, a wholesome sonic canvas splashed with layered vocals and soft guitar. But ultimately, it lacks a certain degree of cultural relevance and ends up leaving something to be desired.
Hummingbird’s production is unbelievable, and the album doesn’t contain any filler, but while every song is good, none are phenomenal. Is the quality of production a result of technical mastery or a lack of risk? Probably a bit of both. Every song has the same ethereal quality, the same reverberating guitar, and the same harmonized vocals. The melodies meander, building slightly at times but never reaching soaring heights. The album leaves the listener in awe of Local Natives’ talent but wishing the band had taken more risks.
Even though Hummingbird does not maximize the potential of its makers, it still has its moments. “Heavy Feet” is an enjoyable song written about a dishonest girl. The verses and pre-chorus create excellent buildup. In the pre-chorus, Kelcey Ayer sings “What you said, I wrote it down, won’t say, won’t speak—the same / Maybe I know better than to read more from what’s written.” He lets the girl know that he is documenting the truth and won’t even speak about it with her to avoid corrupting it. The listener is left awaiting a powerful chorus, in which Ayer would ideally lay the final blow on this woman who has clearly mistreated him. Instead, Ayer just repeats the same melody four times, while self-commiserating “After everything (2x) / left in the sun shivering / after everything.” Instead of being ambitious, the lyrics and melody retreat in unison, leaving the listener imagining what could have been.
The best song on the album may be “Three Months.” The verses feature piano and elongated singing, but the chorus is where the song comes to life. After a brief instrumental part, Ayer breaks into beautiful falsetto: “I am letting you know / I am ready to feel you.” The song evokes a feeling of spending time with a lover in a secluded area. Though it’s bare-boned and not the most musically impressive song on the album, it ends up making the greatest impact.
“Three Months” predicts the direction in which Local Natives need to head. The band’s first two albums have been well produced, but the group needs to start swinging for the fences. Even if its third album lacks the consistency of their first two, Local Natives should create something that gets people talking. They should strive for an album everyone remembers, rather than just another decent album. This isn’t a masterpiece to share with your friends because of its ingenuity, but it certainly makes an excellent homework soundtrack. Don’t give up on Local Natives. While this album may not be a classic, the potential is there.