Only when discussing indie rock can two people express their love for artists so completely different as MGMT and Bon Iver and still feel comfortable saying they like the same genre. Yet despite the nebulous nature of the term, the many facets of indie rock are represented on L.A. band Local Natives’ debut LP, “Gorilla Manor,” crafting a well-tailored snapshot of many of the most prevalent and exciting trends in indie music today.
On album opener, “Wide Eyes,” Local Natives present a clear mission statement. The driving drums pulse under electronica-influenced rim clicks and the determined picking of the guitar line. This drum track is instantly reminiscent of the Dodos and the National, bands that have pioneered the now-popular “big drum” sound pervasive throughout much of indie rock. The bass is melodic, driving the song as much as the guitar. Due to their spaced-out reverb and ethereal interval, the constantly harmonized vocals are reminiscent of Fleet Foxes. The song is comprised of carefully constructed parts that build, then segue seamlessly, always driven by the throbbing drums and the wandering bass.
The songs on “Gorilla Manor” are layered in such a way as to eschew the idea of a limited role for each musician. The melody of “Warning Sign,” a Talking Heads cover, is sung completely in harmony. This mirrors a trend seen in many bands like Grizzly Bear to dispense with a specific lead singer and instead focus on harmonies and dual vocalists. On “Stranger Things,” furious strings cut in and out to build the tension, and the guitars layer at the end of the track, becoming an indistinguishable, blissed-out mass. This is just one example of how the songs layer many small parts for each instrument one on top of the other.
The album reaches a pinnacle on the stunning “Who Knows Who Cares.” A reticent, finger-picked guitar figure plays alone, punctuated only by extraneous string noise, before the wide-open piano chords punch in, bouncing off the uninterrupted guitar. One of the vocalists begins singing the melody before the other drapes a gauzy harmony on top. The opening is enchanting enough to repeat for another three minutes, but Local Natives refuse to rest on their laurels. Instead, the song swings into a taut rock groove with punchy electric guitars and a gurgling bass. The drums cut in and out, adding tension and release at the perfect moments and then letting the track build slowly upon itself with each soaring harmony before the ultimate release of blazing guitar and fist pumping high notes. The joyful climax of its chorus, worthy of Arcade Fire, is a phenomenal emotional release.
On “Gorilla Manor,” Local Natives don’t present anything the audience hasn’t heard before. Instead, they encapsulate the current state of a genre that is characterized by its indefinable nature. This is enjoyable and intelligent indie rock circa 2010, and the album, while nothing new, is still powerful. In its remarkable breadth, the album offers one possible definition of indie music: a music where people can bring sounds together without regard to genre or what these sounds may connote. Local Natives embrace this freedom on “Gorilla Manor,” and the result, while familiar, is too well-made not to be enjoyed.
—Staff writer Benjamin Naddaff-Hafrey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.