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Local Natives aim high with debut

April 13, 2010

Local Natives
Gorilla Manor
February 16, 2010

Rating: 8.6/10

When describing Silver Lake, Calif. quintet Local Natives it is quite easy to describe their sound as “reaching for the sky.” It is an aesthetic to their music that is immediately available to the listener; that of soaring dynamism.

When the first layer of guitar is set on the opener, “Wide Eyes,” it’s understood that this song will continue to build and grow. What’s not necessarily unexpected, but learned, is that as the album grows in sonic scope it also grows on the listener.

Gorilla Manor has everything demanding music fans have come to expect in this age of illegal downloads and MySpace bands. The music is engaging, soulful, pretty and most importantly it is unique.

There aren’t many bands around that work the generic five-piece structure as well as Local Natives. The aural landscape that these gentlemen create with two guitars, a keyboard, bass and drums is quite impressive, but the real key to their larger than life sound is the beautiful three-part harmonies that chime over their post-punk instrumentation.

Comparing their vocalizations to that of Fleet Foxes has become a lazy journalist’s platitude. Certainly a similarity can be drawn, but there is a similarity to the Beach Boys as well; I’m not ready to make that leap yet.

The harmonies on Gorilla Manor are not like what you’ve heard from Fleet Foxes (or the Beach Boys) and it only takes a listen to “Sun Hands” to dispel any of those notions. When their collective primal scream cuts ring out the music practically drops out, but the album doesn’t seem to be higher than that moment.

That’s the wonder of Local Natives’ music: often it doesn’t take several layers of guitar and piano for their sound to seem gigantic.

Gorilla Manor is not an album that is worth listening to solely for its instrumentation, however, there is profound lyrical content to the album as well.

Guitarist Ryan Hahn describes “Airplanes” as a song he wrote for his late grandfather. The song is rather light musically, but quite heavy lyrically. When Hahn sings, “I bet when I leave my body for the sky the wait will be worth it,” only a hardened heart does not feel compassion.

The slow burning “Shape Shifter” builds into a wonderful crescendo of crashing drums and pulsing guitars, asking the listener questions like, “Why don’t you give me an answer for when you’ll let it go?” The effect is a lingering desire to hear the song repeatedly, perhaps searching for answers.

Though the album is probably best described as “post-punk,” the Californians prove they are not afraid to limit themselves musically. “Camera Talk” takes a stab at fast-paced pop, melding in peppy drumbeats and chaotic bridges to create a unique sampling of genres.

The Talking Heads cover, “Warning Sign,” takes the original and flips it “on its head,” to hear drummer Matt Frazier explain it. David Byrne’s yelp from the original is no longer present, replaced instead by the beautiful harmonies and chanting Local Natives call their trademark.

Throughout the record, the feeling of rising is almost palpable. As the band fuses layers of guitar, piano and vocals together the album reaches improbable heights, as cliché as it sounds.

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