Reviewed by Brett Thorne.
Local Natives’ debut album, Gorilla Manor (Frenchkiss Records), pretty much rolled out the red carpet for comparisons to Grizzly Bear. Local Natives has the Gorilla Manor, a house the five members shared in Los Angeles. Grizzly Bear has Yellow House, named for… a yellow house. Local Natives enjoy using three-part harmonies in their soaring rock. Ditto for Grizzly Bear. It looks like the only thing standing between Local Natives and the complete Grizzly Bear transformation is an endorsement from Jay-Z.
Comparisons like these make the jobs of music journalists pretty simple. If an apple polisher at Rolling Stone makes the comment “Ra Ra Riot? Oh yeah, well, you know they sound like if early David Bowie—I’m talking pre-Ziggy Stardust—had a baby with a renaissance musician, then, like, Princess Leia joined the band to play cello and Alf Melmac produced the whole thing while on acid,” it will be a few hours before four different versions of the same thing are already out in the blogosphere. Except Leia is replaced by Princess Vespa of Spaceballs and Alf Melmac is replaced by Greg the Bunny.
It’s comparisons like these (along with a laundry list of other gripes I have) that have made Rolling Stone completely irrelevant today. Local Natives certainly aren’t doing anything exceptionally new on Gorilla Manor, but they are doing it better than most of the bands slugging it out on the pages of Pitchfork.
The album opens with “Wide Eyes,” a twitchy number that utilizes rim taps and spastic guitars that pack more nervous indie energy than that time Michael Cera chugged 12 cups of coffee and freaked out on the whole crew of “Youth in Revolt.”
The album’s second track, “Airplanes,” opens with what sounds like the whole band drunk in the studio. Behind the rhythmic pounding of keys on a piano, the band goes from howling and booing to cheering and clapping at the sound of the kick drum. The song tells of one of the band members’s longings to meet his grandfather, who was an airplane pilot. The lyrics lack the literary feel of the album’s opener and come off clunky at times (“The desk where you sit inside of a frame, made of, made of, of wood”) but this simple conversational delivery and vivid imagery work to the band’s advantage. The song sounds more like a friend revealing to a trusted confidante one of the greatest sadnesses of his life, and less like an over-polished gem of indie rock radio fodder.
“Sun Hands” is pretty much par for the Local Natives course until the 3-minute mark, when the song changes directions with gang vocals a la Your-Favorite-Hardcore-Band-But-With-An-Actual-Sense-Of-Melody and a fuzzed-out guitar break.
“Who Knows Who Cares” begins as a piano ballad with swelling violins but quickly changes directions into a frenetic rocker that fully displays Matt Frazier’s skills on the skins.
If beautiful vocal harmonies and proficient instrumentation are not enough to silence the haters, maybe this will: Gorilla Manor is Local Natives’ first album. While most bands in that position are still trying to sort out who gets how many drink tickets or who gets to ride shotgun on tour, these L.A. boys have created a collection of haunting songs that deserve much more than an off-the-cuff comparison to any other bands.
Red River rating: 9 out of 10