When Local Native’s album, Gorilla Manor came up under the Amazon Daily Deal last year, the description included the words “critically acclaimed.” Naturally I shelled out the $2.99 discounted price for the album because even if I didn’t like it, owning something with the “CA” stamp of approval would make me infinitely more interesting and fun to be around.1 I could talk about “this new great band” with people at parties. Maybe I could grow a moustache to complete the effect.
I’ll admit, “critically acclaimed” means you try harder to like an album. On my initial listen of Gorilla Manor, I was bored by it. I am not a huge fan of flat, unemotional harmonies by bands such as Fleet Foxes; it just is not my thing. Local Natives give a little more effort than that, but listening to them I get a “Rennaissance Fair” vibe and I can’t help but feel they should be opening for Jethro Tull or traveling in a troupe with Brave Sir Robin and his favorite minstrels.
“But they’re critically acclaimed,” a voice says in my head. “Maybe they are better live and their work in the studio is not representative of their talent.”2 Begrudgingly, I set my snark aside and tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. Since I had not seen them live, my journey took me to YouTube and a collection of recorded performances Local Natives did for the Seattle’s KEXP. There was a different energy from the live performance and several people had made comments that they were amazing in person, which I could totally see in the clip. They had more presence and were more moving than in their recorded work.
This seems to be a pitfall for a lot of bands: they are so much better live than their studio attempts could ever show. For example, I saw a band last spring called Stars of Track and Field who blew the roof off of the theater and stole the show. I barely remember who the headliner was but I’ll remember those 30 minutes by the middle act. As soon as I was able, I got their album, Centuries Before Love and War and was immediately disappointed by it. The band I saw live was a tsunami of sound; the album was a glass of water.
I see a similar problem with Local Natives. There is no doubting their talent; they are gifted writers and musicians. I just wish Gorilla Manor translated that more clearly, as much of their ability seems to get lost from the stage to the studio. For a sub-genre of indie rock that needs a face for its category, Gorilla Manor does not do much to help Local Natives stand out from any other band in my eyes. I will put it on for background music, but it doesn’t have the hook for regular listening.
But if they ever play a concert here, I will buy a ticket.
1. In reality, “critically acclaimed” means you’ll hate the record but tell everyone you love it because you don’t want people to know that a) your a dilettante who listens to top 40, or b) 311’s Blue Album secretly holds a special place in your heart. You decide which applies in this case…
2. Maybe I should let that voice write my reviews; he seems pretty smart.