A Neither Local nor Native Sound

Courtesy of Frenchkiss

Courtesy of Frenchkiss

The name Local Natives may sound like an ironic hipster band name to most people (and it probably is,) but here at UC Irvine, the title fits. That’s because the indie folk-rockers, whose album “Hummingbird” was recently released, are Orange County locals … or would they be natives?

Many of the band members grew up in Orange County, and later moved up the freeway to Silver Lake to break into the growing indie music scene, where artists such as Beck, Rilo Kiley and Elliot Smith thrived. Local Natives seemed to be next: they opened for bigger bands that came through town, and played residencies at local clubs.

After receiving glowing reviews from critics and touring around the world with bands like Arcade Fire and The National though, Local Natives needed to get away. They went to Brooklyn and Montreal to record “Hummingbird,” leaving their So Cal roots for a bit — and on “Hummingbird,” it shows.

As many bands do with their second album, Local Natives seek above all else to show that they have matured as songwriters and have moved their sound forward. But all too often, this progression comes across forced, and for the most part, “Hummingbird” feels no different.

The opening track “You & I” is sparse, with singer Kelcey Ayers’ falsetto soaring through the first few minutes while a muted guitar riff and drumbeat builds beneath him. This is in stark contrast to the driving rhythm section of “Gorilla Manor,” which could have something to do with the fact that bassist Andy Hamm left the band last year.

Yet I think the main reason for the subdued tone of the whole album is because it was overthought. Local Natives wanted too much to be like the bands they toured with last year, and even went so far as to enlist The National guitarist Aaron Desner to help them accomplish this goal, and in the process they sacrificed too much of their original sound. Ultimately, the album sounds self-conscious, with the band falling into the all too common trap of confusing musical influence with imitation.

That’s not to say that there aren’t good moments, though. The single, “Breakers,” opens with a forceful drumbeat and ends with an all-in chorus that could be a B-side from their previous album “Gorilla Manor.” The penultimate song, “Columbia,” is one of the best songs the band has written, resting on emotion instead of overthinking it. Ayers sings to his mother, who passed away during recording, “Patricia / Every night I’ll ask myself / Am I loving enough?”

But Local Natives couldn’t harness that emotion for the rest of “Hummingbird,” and we’re left with a sonically pleasing album in parts, but a disappointing one overall.

Only Recommended If: You’re willing to pick through and find the songs that are worth listening to on what turns out to be a disappointing sophomore slump.