In 2010, it’s not quite enough to rely on pretty arrangements. Lush, delicate guitar melodies and three-part harmonies are adequately sufficient to move past an indie rock Olympian’s qualifying round. And an expertly executed new wave cover is a nice, if inessential benefit. For an artist to stand out among those with a like-minded aesthetic, it requires a novel approach and a unique presentation. Los Angeles’ Local Natives, a five-piece indie pop outfit reflecting the gorgeous, sun-streaked vibes of their coastal hometown, are just such a band, making something unique and refreshing from familiar elements on their debut album, Gorilla Manor.
Named for the place in which it was recorded, Gorilla Manor potentially brings to mind similarly coined titles such as Yellow House or At Mount Zoomer, but this isn’t the kind of album whose music is contained by four walls, foam padding or creaky staircases. Rather, it’s more of a sunset landscape than an indoor snapshot, with songs that breathe and expand, their beautiful melodies opening up and outwardly expressing a kind of affable optimism and celebration of the human spirit. At the album’s midsection, standout “Camera Talk” features the line “Even though I can’t be sure/ Memory tells me that these times are worth working for.” While the energy level is never on hyperdrive, this music is designed to make the listener feel good.
Throughout the album, Local Natives line up one excellent song after another, though it’s hard to top the amazing first track, “Wide Eyes.” Its opening chords shimmer and sparkle, emitting a stunning melodic warmth. But it only gets better once arriving at its chorus, with a glorious harmonization of the phrase “oh, to see it with my own eyes,“setting an emotional tone that resonates through the remaining 45 minutes of the album. Ordinarily, I find it somewhat disappointing when an album’s most powerful track is placed at the beginning, but on Gorilla Manor, the tracks that follow in no way reveal a drop in quality. Rather, their merits are subtler and more intimate, but no less incredible.
“Airplane” is another instant favorite, building from its opening piano chords into a mightily climactic chorus adorned with mesmerizing strings and a determined cry of “I want you back!” The album’s two singles, “Sun Hands” and “Camera Talk,” find the group offering up their understated hooks in varied forms. The former is a hypnotic, slightly psychedelic gem, with keyboards swirling beneath the chime of guitars and a rolling bassline, climaxing with a group shout session and some of the harshest riffs on the album. Meanwhile, the latter is more upbeat and direct, with a sweep of strings soaring against its scruffy guitar chords and rollicking pace.
There’s a 1970s A.M. pop feel to “Who Knows Who Cares,” an especially romantic ballad with some soulful flourishes and an uplifting lyrical message of defying fears about the future and taking on whatever’s in front of you: “I took you by the hand/ know that even with your doubt’s it’s okay/ take into account it’s not about to change.” And closer “Stranger Things” carries that message even further, closing out the album with the dewy-eyed sentiment, “Enjoy the chance of frozen new grounds/ everything’s odd with beautiful sounds/ I’ve learned to smile without a bearing/ at least I know I’ve heard stranger things.”
With their lovely harmonies and big-hearted emotional sentiments, Local Natives go well beyond merely being a band with ear-catching tunes. They’re an easy group to love, maintaining a delicate balance of familiarity and mastery, while seemingly reaching back out to their audience with a celebration of past experiences and those yet to come. Come springtime, consider this for the soundtrack to your next drive up the coast.