On their debut, Gorilla Manor, Local Natives wisely sidestep the world-music-meets-indie-rock trends that have made their live shows such sweaty and cathartic experiences (even if they’re verging toward overcooked within the larger world of indie rock ‘n’ pop). It is decidedly not positioned as a rock ‘n’ roll, indie, world music, pop, soul, or Afro-pop record. Instead, it folds each of these genres into a layered and singular collage of those sounds, one that highlights the Los Angeles five-piece’s ability to craft moody, grandeur-laden and vocally charged atmospherics that hover above a devilishly sinuous and rhythmic instrumental bedrock.
Opening with the cavernous multi-vocals and tribal drums of the slowly unfurling “Wide Eyes,” Gorilla Manor presents itself as a tightly controlled, expertly paced album. (Remember those?) Each successive song sets up the next like an interlinked chain of sound, each track a necessary piece to complete the whole. Songs like the howling cascades of “World News” flow seamlessly into the aptly titled “Shapeshifter,” which veers from a down-tempo slowburn into an explosion of prismatic vocals and arcing guitars, before driving the album into the celebratory travelogue pop of “Camera Talk.”
Elsewhere, tracks such as Manor highpoints “Airplanes,” all lilting pleas and charging guitar-pop, and “Sun Hands,” a furious mélange of rock, post-punk and Afro-pop all tightly bound within a shimmering slice of vocally-powered indie, bounce between the album’s two poles of meditative nuance and noisy exaltations. Falling somewhere in between, the Talking Heads get a nod with a cover of “Warning Sign,” which transforms the nervy original into a slow-motioned parade of looping bass lines and militaristic percussion; further, “Sticky Thread” closes the album like a veritable best-of Local Natives compilation in just under four minutes, collapsing the album into a new-wave slideshow of the band’s rippling vocal gifts and moody musical digressions.
By turns exuberant and hushed, intricate and occasionally frenzied, Gorilla Manor more than lives up to its title: This is a home for music that has been released from its inhibitions and is free from genre constraint, all wild and natural as it carves zigzagged swaths from the band’s influences (David Byrne, Paul Simon, Arcade Fire) and where they came from all the way up to where they are going. Which, by sound of hings, could be anywhere.