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Album review: Local Natives' 'Gorilla Manor'

February 15, 2010 |  5:08 pm

Local_natives_240 Sometimes a band is defined not by a singer, a look or a genre. Sometimes it can be summed up in a single sound. For the L.A indie rock quintet Local Natives, it all comes down to voices. Sometimes they're up front, gliding over a haunting little Saharan-blues guitar lick; often they flit about in the margins, lighting up a song like a pulled curtain. 

Local Natives' three singers -- keyboardist Kelcey Ayer and guitarists Ryan Hahn and Taylor Rice -- have done away with the idea of the frontman and created something else entirely: a band led by its harmonies.

That's not to slight the strength of Local Natives' songwriting or arrangement prowess. The tipsy saloon piano that buoys lead single "Airplanes" and the coy, restrained fuzz of "Camera Talk" prove the Natives can wring evocative sounds from traditional instruments. Drummer Matt Frazier has an ambitious knack for accenting a song with bursts of clatter.

But the band always comes back to the spectacle and possibilities of those vocals. There's a bit of Broadway, a touch of Motown and a tang of choir nerd to them, but Local Natives avoid the preciousness of Grizzly Bear or the gang-chorus rapture of Arcade Fire. It's a rare band that can use its chemistry as its own instrument. But the young, frightfully accomplished Local Natives are a rare L.A. band indeed. 

-- August Brown

Local Natives
"Gorilla Manor" 
(Frenchkiss Records)
Three stars (Out of four)

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