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ATP! Album Review: Local Natives - Hummingbird

When the very youthful Los Angeles quintet first burst onto the scene back in 2009, it was their wide-eyed wonderment, yearning harmonies and opulent melodies that wooed over every music critic, blogger and unsuspecting listener.

However, there was a notable naivety to their music that was part charm, part annoyance. They had the muscular arrangements, the busy compositions and the slightly off kilter guitar lines and balmy euphoric chants. Yet, the criticism that came their way time and time again was that they sounded too close to their peers almost borrowing off the likes of Fleet Foxes or imitating Grizzly Bear. These accusations were nothing but harsh and thankfully didn’t diminish the returns that ‘Gorilla Manor’ rightly deserved.

In the three years since their debut, which through word of mouth and the blogger sphere came truly into the public domain, a lot of things have changed. Despite being at the forefront of much media attention, a meteoric rise to support major artists that included no other than The National and Arcade Fire, and surpassing all expectations at such an early stage in their career, certain issues stood in their way.

There were broken personal relationships, the loss of bassist Andy Hamm, who split from the group in 2011 and the death of a close family member, which Columbia was written for. And yet what they have created here on Hummingbird is nothing short of a revelation. A masterpiece in slow-burning beauty, it leads them into intrepid ground and comes out the other end brimming with light.

Briefly relocating to record the album with The National’s Aaron Dessner was a wise move. It was one that in the safe hands of an experienced veteran like Dessner, who only last year recorded Sharon Van Etten’s breakthrough album, could only bear fruitful results.

From the crisp brimming harmonies that soar in ‘You and I’ to the handclaps and elegance of the euphoric ‘Heavy Feet’ the first two songs not only set the tone and pace, but show a bolder confident band comfortable in their sound. Experimenting with new instruments and challenging their established aesthetic has worked wonders and given them an almost cinematic sheen that stays unfailingly on the side of tasteful throughout.

‘Ceilings’ breezes effortlessly into the achingly tender ‘Black Spot’ before the single and pop gem ‘Breakers’ crashes in with unparalleled beauty and lush arrangements. ‘Break Baloons’ is the biggest surprise here almost swaggering into off kilter verses that flourish at every stage. The serenity of ‘Three Months’ plods by a little, but the climatic three-song punch that ends the record are suitably brilliant and fitting of a wonderful record.

It is at once fragile, tense and widescreen on one hand, yet on the other powerful, sparse and poised. The album has purpose, vigor and will undoubtedly be one of the most cohesively brilliant albums of the year destined for end of year critics charts already. As hyped anticipated records go, this has matched if not exceeded all expectations. This could ultimately be the record that propels them into the unchartered territory of mainstream stardom.


Alex Jackson

Hummingbird is out on 29th January via Frenchkiss.

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