Artist: Local Natives
Local Natives' Gorilla Manor is everything you could possibly want in a debut. It's memorable, distinctive and at times, catchy. Possessing an incredible knack for superior percussion parts, the indie rock outfit is an atypical entity in today's music world-- being driven by their percussion section. Yet, mixing that auxiliary section with elegant piano and the offsetting vocals of Taylor Rice and Kelcey Ayer, the results are overwhelmingly positive more often than not. Their shortcomings, however, lie more in their youth, rather than a lack of skill. The lengthy 12-song set begins to wear on listeners, if only because it seems that they've explored all their current sound has to offer by the end of the ninth track.
As mentioned, the album starts well enough, introducing the audience to a broad array of tracks, from the more reserved introduction "Wide Eyes," to the aggressive, "Sun Hands." While "Wide Eyes" does fail to really display the range of the collection, it does serve as a worthwhile starting point, and one of the many displays of how well the percussion truly drives the effort as a whole. In comparison, "Airplanes" and the aforementioned "Sun Hands" begin to tap in to the band's uninhibited energy and colorful instrumental backgrounds. Switching off from bright to hauntingly sentimental, the intensity quickly ratchets up and down on these tracks to create a more active and intriguing listen. Even the inclusion of revivalist group vocals on multiple tracks don't seem to slow it down, regardless of how cliche they might appear on the surface. The band restrains themselves in that regard, though they unfortunately fail to do the same during an out-of-place solo during "Sun Hands."
Towards the middle of the album, many of the songs follow a similar pattern of progression. Starting slow, hitting a crescendo, and then breaking down for a minute or so before resolution, one would think that it could grow stale rather quickly. And come the last few tracks, it clearly does. Yet here, the formula functions more as a natural progression. Bright and catchy pop single "Camera Talk" soars, along with "Shape Shifter," as testaments to the strength of both their keyboard selections and vocal prowess. Similarly, "Warning Sign" begins quietly and unassuming, before hitting its virtuoso peak as it blares a gratuitous pop vibe. If not for the lackluster "Cards & Quarters," whose only interesting attribute is some sort of pseudo-hip hop beat ambling in the backdrop, the entire midsection could easily carry the entire record.
If most listeners had their way, Gorilla Manor would end with the sentimental, yet active orchestration of "Who Knows Who Cares." Even following the same progression as most of the songs before it, the intensely gorgeous backdrop creates an emotional, heartfelt ballad that's worth the price of admission. To a first time onlooker, it would appear to be the final stunning moment for the album-- a summation of the collection overall. Sadly though, this is not the case. Though "Cubism Dream," "Stranger Things" and "Sticky Thread" are all very listenable, pleasant songs in their own rights, none can match "Who Knows Who Cares" in terms of resolve. The repetition of a similar formula finally gets to the listener, and, if you've ventured into tracks 10 through 12, you're almost discontent to have continued.
Gorilla Manor is not a bad album. On the contrary, it is a very good album, especially for a debut. If not for that final sticking point, its overall evaluation would jump tenfold-- it's hard to ignore as the album continues for over 50 minutes. More than anything though, it's for a lack of experience, rather than talent. Local Natives are obviously proficient at what they do, specifically in terms of percussion and harmonic elements, to name a few. As soon as the other pieces fall into place, they'll be sure to go from very good, to great. From what we've heard here, it's almost assured.
Best Track: "Camera Talk" (Download via Pitchfork)
[Previously on Animal Noises: Music Video Monday: Local Natives' "Airplanes"]