The atmosphere introduced in the first few songs of the Local Natives’ debut album “Gorilla Manor” reeks of that familiar indie sound we have come to love over the years: luscious, multi-layered vocal harmonies swirling through waves of feathery, lyrical guitars. Add in some syncopated, African-flavored percussion and you’ve got a delicious recipe for critical acclaim and scene-ster cred. Recently, though, that indie sound has become pretty predictable. But is it fair to decry a young LA quintet like Local Natives for riding the trendy wave on its own search for a unique sound?
No, it isn’t—not in an era when the mainstream focuses on saturating a tired laundry list of recycled melodies with auto-tune. Fact is, the music on the “Gorilla Manor” feels original and refreshing. Undeniably talented, the Local Natives pepper their songs with just the sort of hooks that leave a lasting impression. Although the cookie-cutter refrain “I want you back!” on “Airplanes” feels tired, the resolve and fearlessness with which the Local Natives approach their melodies function in their favor, revealing an audacity in the song-writing rarely found in indie music. They distinguish themselves from the forest-folk stylings of Fleet Foxes with much more aggressive guitar and rhythmic work, but the comparisons are undeniable. When singer Ryan Hahn’s voice opens “Sun Hands” with “I climbed to the top of a hill,” the lyric oozes pure Robin Pecknold. It doesn’t help that Hahn and Pecknold’s voices sound almost identical, and at times, Hahn’s song-writing veers a little too close to Fleet Foxes territory for comfort.
In stark contrast to their indie forebears—Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, and the Dodos to name a few—the Local Natives seem to approach their craft with a much-needed sense of humor and just the flavor of blazed-out, youthful recklessness seldom found in artists not dealing in noise. While one might expect Fleet Foxes to provide the soundtrack for a mushroom-laden stroll through the woods, the Local Natives seem more attuned to the type of drunken, tribal beach parties of their Orange County upbringing. Those who might complain about the Local Natives’ originality should realize that the band brings a nascent pulse to their genre in ways that Grizzly Bear or Fleet Foxes could only imagine.
The typical comparisons fall flat during the haunting percussion breaks on “Shape Shifter,” or the unaccompanied gang yelps on “Sun Hands.” The latter song builds dreamy instrumentation around a Johnny Cash-freight-train rhythm, toward an abrupt explosion of voices and guitars. It’s a demonstration of the pure energy that truly distinguishes the Local Natives from their contemporaries. “Wide Eyes,” the album’s stand-out track, sifts through its tempo changes and vocal contours with such ease that one cannot help but get the sense that the Local Natives have weathered their craft for decades.