February 5, 2013
I openly admit that sometimes I misjudge the scope and cultural impact of certain bands. I'll assume that my love of a band somehow raises their status in the overall lexicon of popular music in direct correlation with my playcount of their songs. The angle of their popularity dangle is not inversely proportionate to the heat of my approval of their quality meat? Yes! Nailed it!
This misjudgment of mine was first illustrated to me at a Shins concert in Lawrence, Kansas, again at a Pinback show in Lawrence, again at a Citizen Cope concert in Lawrence, again at a Tune-Yards concert in Lawrence, at a White Rabbits show in KC, and most notably at another Pinback show in a tiny room in KC. Each of these shows were shocking in their smallness of crowd and venue. To me.
I am, or have been at some point, a big fan of all these bands. The same goes for most of my friends. We listen (or listened) to these bands as frequently as the "big print" bands like PJ, Radiohead, My Morning Jacket, or the Black Keys. As a result, walking into a room that holds, say, 700 people twenty minutes before a Shins show and seeing 250 people can be moderately confounding.
Until you realize a few things:
1. There is a natural life cycle of all bands, and sometimes you luck out and happen to catch greatness in its infancy at a tiny venue. It's the equivalent of seeing LeBron play in Jr. High. Good for you and your finely-tuned music antenna.
2. College towns are weird.
3. Some really good bands just don't have mass appeal, which is good because when people become a mass, I usually hate them and don't want them listening to my bands.
4. Much like black holes, p-branes, female emotions, and the success of Keanu Reeves, there will always be logical outliers. Sum thangs jus' don't make the sense.
Which (finally!) brings me to my review of Hummingbird, by Local Natives.
Local Natives put out an album in 2010 called Gorilla Manor, which I hope falls into Category 1 above, in that it was greatness seen and heard by only a few. If that's the case, Hummingbird should be the album to raise their relative position in the music world to a place that is far removed from a show at a dive in Westport KC.
Because it's really good. Like, I'll-be-surprised-if-it-isn't-in-my-Top-10-albums-of-2013 good. I know, I know, it's only Feb. 5th.
It always peeves me when an album review doesn't include any attempt at a comparison to another band/album/song. What do you want me to do, listen to the album for myself?
Consequently, there have been a few bands that have been surfacing in my mind as I've listened to this album the past week, so hopefully these somewhat indiscriminate comparisons won't lead you astray.
If you don't like the innovation of Grizzly Bear, or the sparse minimalism (that only blooms to expose its depth and intentionality upon multiple listens) of new Radiohead, or the pop sensibility with darkness at the edges of Transatlanticism-era Death Cab for Cutie, skip this album, because it has all of it.
It's not necessarily ground-breaking, although it is creative and original sounding. It feels like a deviation from the rat race of as-yet-little-known artists who try to throw everything they have at a canvas, Jackson Pollack style, in hopes of picking up a fan or two by way of musical carpet bomb.
It is innovative minimalism. It is pretty.
As boring and commonplace as that may be, "pretty" is probably the most apt adjective to describe the overall feel of Hummingbird. That in no way implies the music itself is boring, as patient and repeated listens reveal frenetic drumming, avant-garde guitar work, and creative song structuring.
As with all music, listening on quality headphones or a good stereo with good balance and accurate lows always enhances the overall experience, but even more so than usual with this album.
So do yourself a favor. Don't stream this album. Buy it. Put it on a proper stereo. Play it. Repeat. It can kind of wash over you upon first listen, leaving only an impression. Don't let that be the end. Listening once and moving on is not talking to that hot girl at the coffee shop with all the bracelets. Trust me, talk to her, she's better in your life than as an impression in your memory.
Ceilings, Three Months, Bowery