It goes without saying that this is a different album than their tremendous debut Gorilla Manor, one of my favorite albums of the last few years. There’s no use comparing the two. Bassist Andy Hamm left the band in 2011, and The National’s Aaron Dessner produced the album, giving us all a clear indication that this would be a darker, more serious effort.
Looking around my peers and the rest of the musical landscape, it seems like a lot of people unfairly bashed the album too early on, insisting that it was a slow, listen that absent of the sunny hooks and harmonies that their debut so effortlessly established. It’s unfair because this album is a reflection of all the bands hardships, such as the losing of a band member/friend, and more serious forms of loss. Take “Colombia” a touching song written by Kelcey Ayer about the loss of his mother. Obviously we will never feel how Ayer felt after such a devastating loss of a loved one, but he guides us as close as he can in the song, putting us right with him emotionally.
Where as Gorilla Manor could be seen as various pieces of a puzzle, Hummingbird is the whole thing, an album that features an aesthetic heavy on melancholy, reminders of the past. The theme of loss hits home on “Three Months”, a simply beautiful ballad, that tackles the grieving process of losing someone, and the recovery that never quite seems like enough (“I’ve got to go on now/Having thought this wasn’t your last year”). The band strikes a similar chord on the dark bouncy riffs of “Black Balloons” that are begging for a more immediate recovery from a painful experience (“You hold me down and bring me back up again/ Until I can’t, I can’t tell the difference”). It’s the little things and details that you notice that make this album a remarkable listen. Such as this moment on “Ceilings” (“I haven’t stopped your smoking yet/So I’ll share your cigarette/Just to feel it in my fingers”). We’ve all been there, foolishly submitting ourselves because we fancy someone.
There’s nothing like when a track that does nothing for you at first slowly turns into your favorite. This is the case for “Mt. Washington”, a track that crept up on me and slowly hit my emotional core like nothing else. It doesn’t do anything more than it has to, and it builds and builds off lovely vocals from Taylor Rice, creating an emotional moment that works because it’s so simple and pure. It bears it’s soul to us, and we have no choice but to open ours right back.
Hummingbird is a somber, personal reflection that is highlighted by the touching “Colombia.” If I had any real gripe with this album, it’s that it should have ended on this song. It’s a remarkable song that perfectly captures the theme and power of the album. It’s power is inescapable. What’s also inescapable is the power of Aaron Dessner at the helms. He had a great deal to do with the restraint somber nature of this album. Hell there are flashes of The National on the album, such as the frantic drumming by Matt Frazier on “Heavy Feet.” Frazier is arguably the secret weapon of the band. If you want to argue, please listen to his drum fills on “Wooly Mammoth” on full volume and try telling me otherwise.
I previously said that there’s no use comparing Local Natives two albums, but I do think that this is the better one, and time will prove that as these songs have room to grow on listeners as quick as a hummingbird can fly.