It took almost a month but I have finally come across the first great album of 2013. I was not much of a fan of the debut album from Los Angeles based band Local Natives. Gorilla Manor was well received and put them on the map, but it didn't do much for my musical tastes. So their sophomore effort comes as a complete surprise to me. I wasn't expecting what Hummingbird delivers and that is simply an album destined to land on my Best of 2013 list when the year is said and done.
This album brings with it some change for Local Natives. First, they parted ways with bassist Andy Hamm. But the move that has drawn the most attention was moving from self-producing their debut to enlisting the help of Aaron Dessner to produce the follow-up. Dessner is one of the key members of the highly critically acclaimed band The National, and you can hear his influence on this album. Whereas Gorilla Manor had a much more psychedelic folk-rock sound, Hummingbird puts a major emphasis on melodic rock.
The other major emphasis on this album is one of sadness and loss. There are still tracks like "Heavy Feet" and "Breakers" that call to mind their debut with sunny harmonies and more upbeat moments. But it is the slower, more subdued material that strikes the heavier impact. Lyrically, things also take a heavier turn starting with the opening track "You & I", an exploration of a relationship on its way to crashing down. 'When did your love grow cold? The closer I get, the farther I have to go', sings Kelcey Ayer in his affecting falsetto. The band's trademark vocal harmonies are still all over Hummingbird, lifting up other strong, yet sorrowful songs as "Ceilings" and "Black Spot". The somber "Mt. Washington" is another personal favorite with its moaning guitars.
At the emotional center of Hummingbird is the very difficult topic of the passing of Ayer's mother. Her death, coming three months after Hamm's less than amicable parting with the band, is addressed first on the track "Three Months". It's not hard to decipher lyrics like 'I keep on calling just to get the machine, I've got to go on now, having thought this wasn't your last year'. Ayer's falsetto cries in the chorus are incredibly affecting on this gorgeous piano based ballad.
However, even "Three Months" can not prepare you for the emotional wallop that is "Colombia", titled as such because Ayer's mother was Colombian. Starting with sparse electronic beats, the song is another piano heavy piece with as moving a vocal performance as you'll hear this year. Ayer addresses his mother's passing, and looks inward, questioning himself, first repeatedly asking 'Am I giving enough?', then 'Am I loving enough?' as he looks back at his mother's life and the love she gave her son. Reflecting on his mother's life and confronting whether he is living up to the kindness she brought into his life and the world? Needless to say, much like the Lost In The Trees track "Villain (I'll Stick Around)" did last year, this one never fails to move me to tears. The ending, when he personalizes his questions by prefacing them with the name Patricia is heartbreakingly sad, yet beautiful at the same time. "Colombia" is a powerhouse of a song, one that will be tough to top this year for the emotional impact it carries.
I can usually tell upon first listen when I have come across one of those special albums and Hummingbird certainly fits that description. This has Album of the Year potential written all over it. It is absolutely not to be missed.
Hummingbird was released January 29, 2013 on Frenchkiss Records. A Deluxe CD version is also available with three bonus tracks.