Sunday, February 21, 2010

Local Natives - Gorilla Manor

Being a music critic requires the ability to form a fairly concrete opinion and evaluation of a band after a single listen. Consecutive play-throughs are necessary to assemble supporting details and descriptive elements, but I've found that my final verdict often ends up very similar to my initial reaction. I think this has less to do with the actual listening process than the thought process of "deciding" whether or not I like a band.

When I first listened to Local Natives' Gorilla Manor, I was decidedly unimpressed. The group's high, mellow harmonies sometimes contrast starkly with their odd hooks and flitting melodies, which led me to process their sound as over-eager and immature. Meanwhile, songs like "Sun Hands" and "Cards & Quarters" feature very unusual phrasing and melody, but without the foreignness and spectacle of Grizzly Bear or the folk sincerity of Fleet Foxes.

"World News" is what changed my mind. The song's conversational lyrics and approachable melody make it the most down-to-Earth song on Gorilla Manor. It escalates comfortably into a soaring and satisfying vocal climax, a feat that recurs frequently on the rest of the album, especially in the intimate, orchestral "Who Knows Who Cares." While these two songs may be the most "traditional" pop-sounding tracks on the album, they open the door to more open-minded works like "Camera Talk" and the exquisite "Cubism Dream."

Ultimately, the reason I misjudged Local Natives was the fact that I didn't see them as a "name-brand" group, like I would a Vampire Weekend or Animal Collective. This is easy to do with a new group, but it relegates their music to being interpreted as derivative or irrelevant, regardless of inherent value.

The truth is, Local Natives are outstanding newcomers. Their instrumentation is varied but not distracting, and their arrangements are logical, dynamic, and effective. A strong follow-up album that expands on their existing aesthetic under a more diverse song base could be what pushes them over the edge into indie stardom.

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