Local Natives – Gorilla Manor
Frenchkiss Records
Words: James Passarelli

“Local Natives create the kind of feeling – with a musicality so ambitious and daring, but immediately satisfying – that you can only attain if you’re head over heels with the very thought of maximizing all that’s in your heart.”…That’s what Daytrotter has to say about the Los Angeles band, and before you even scratch your head or try to conceive what that could possibly mean, just listen to how UK media powerhouse NME describes their debut Gorilla Manor: “poetic songs, which billow, churn and explode into light.”  Explode into light?  My mp3 player must not be working.  Ever since releasing the album in November of ’09 in the UK, Local Natives have garnered similar puzzling praise from a slew of pubs and blogs, and they’ve been compared to Vampire Weekend, Animal Collective, Fleet Foxes, The Arcade Fire, all with whom they share only slivers of similarity.  That critics have scrambled so desperately to express the essence of Gorilla Manor with muddled metaphors and hyperbole says more about the music itself than the competence of those who write about it.

The confusion is especially surprising considering the way the album seems to pander to current typical blogosphere tastes.  Then again, it panders to radio play and parties alike, and couldn’t that possibly be the sign of a great album – being perfect for any circumstance?  Well it’s certainly not the only sign of a great album, but it’s a large part of Gorilla Manor’s appeal.  And the best part is you can take it in four-minute segments or as a whole.  Not since Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix has such a single-worthy album been so cohesive.  Any one of the songs could easily find itself in a trailer for a bad to mediocre romance film (like Phoenix’s “1901” in the trailer for New York, I Love You) and while that may not always be a positive sign, it shows impressive accessibility from what you could consider art-rock.

My first inclination is to call their music dreamy, what with the background chanting and cloud-like guitars.  But the tight composition and the occasional strong, sharp guitar strums hint at something more concrete.  And “dreamy” doesn’t account for the pained yells and straightforward steely rock on “Sun Hands”, the album’s third track.  And some of the same aspects that make the album dreamlike sometimes change to make it sound more realistic.  Buoyant, weightless guitar suddenly changes pace into brief, aggressive strokes.  And take the opening lines of the first two tracks. “Wide Eyes” opens the album with an eerily placid, but altogether surrealistic, warning: “Oh some evil spirit, oh some evil this way comes/They told me how they fear it, now they’re placing it
on their tongues.”  On “Airplanes”, however, the subject is a lost loved one, one that seems as real as anything: “The desk where you sit inside of a/frame made of wood/I keep those chopsticks you had from when/you taught abroad in Japan.”  The themes are subtly transformed throughout the 50-minute record.  The music doesn’t change direction, but the listener has a constantly changing impression of it.

These indie rookies build songs like veterans, and their confidence shines in every one of their compositions.  And they pay fine tribute to the Talking Heads with an impressive cover of “Warning Sign”, a song that works wonderfully in their hands.  Despite the rambling, and often nonsensical, descriptions you may read, the five-piece’s debut is certainly praiseworthy and without a definite dull spot.  But I feel I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t attempt to explain the album in the fashion of our big-name counterparts.  So, here goes…

Gorilla Manor oozes and palpitates with the erudite sense of its own submission, but it leaves us fluttering in a psychotropic vortex wrought with a steady hand and an even colder gaze.  Copernicus refuted Aristotle and said, “the earth moves.”  Einstein refuted Newton and said, “time is relative.”  Local Natives refuted all other musicians before them and said, “this is music.”

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