Album covers can be misleading. When I first saw the cover of Local Native’s record Gorilla Manor I thought I was going to be getting myself into guitar heavy punk pop. The black, graffiti styled writing on the grey wall and the heads exploding with color and grocery fruit didn’t exactly suggest complex three part harmonies. When I found that they covered the Talking Heads my presuppositions were only strengthened. But this is why grade schools have librarians to teach kids not to judge books by their covers.
The band’s sound is not hard to describe. Layer vocal harmonies over a guitar riff that plays throughout the song. Throw in some violins here and there, a horn every once in a while and poof, you have a 2010 hype machine. So it’s no surprise they have garnered comparisons to other, kind of, hyped bands-Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend, and Ra Ra Riot. The difference between Local Natives and these bands, however, is they seem to be acutely self-aware. Any time their harmonies get to the point where Robert Pecknold might be a little jealous, they throw in some tribal drums and dispel any potential for relation. And this is what makes the record great. (cont'd after the jump!)The best example of this is on the track “Who Knows Who Cares.” The song begins with a single voice and a piano; it almost sounds like a Phantom Planet ballad for the first minute. But by the end of the track there are horns blasting, electric guitars riffing, and violins beaming into this symphony of a song. The band is so resistant to fitting into a genre they are so entrenched in that the songs come out strikingly different than one could ever expect.
Gorilla Manor does not break any barriers. Nobody will point back to the album and say it changed the genre of indie-folk-pop. But what Local Natives has done is certainly noteworthy. They have crafted an extremely enjoyable and catchy folk-pop gem.
It would be an injustice to talk about the album’s highlights and not mention “Airplanes” first. Written about a bandmember’s grandfather who was a pilot, the song begins with earnest yelping and transitions to a rhythmic epic with vivid images of chopsticks and meetings in the sky. Immediately following this is “Sun Hands,” a song that’s been floating around the internet for a few months. The most distinct aspect of the track is the frenzied and clinking percussion, which is outstanding throughout the album. The hectic, tribal drumming transforms the album from an easy-listening relaxer to an active and interactive listening experience. Coming near the end of the record, “Strange Things” is possibly the catchiest song on Gorilla Manor, pitting staccato strings and rim shots against handclaps and swooping vocal harmonies.
My only concern with the album was that it might be one or two tracks too long. But upon third and fourth listens I have found that the songs I previously thought “fillers” are absolutely necessary to connect the upbeat beginning to the more grandiose conclusion of the album.
Gorilla Manor won’t be the most revolutionary record released in 2010, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with releasing an excellently executed and fun to listen to album.
Songs To Listen To: “Airplanes” “Sun Hands” “Strange Things”
-- Kevin Lynch
Host, "Don't You Wish We Were NPR," Mondays 8-10 AM on WGTB