Silver Lake-based Local Natives just completed a U.S. tour with Ben Kweller, then went to London, then stormed barns across the midwest. They even blog. Needless to say, these guys (and occasionally girl) are both creative and busy. They’re also great musicians who put on a rewarding and fun show. They have a new album called Gorilla Manor coming out soon.
The quintet’s unique brand of indie folk highlights their tight vocal harmonies without sacrificing on rolling guitars, keys and percussion or sharp lyrics. Their laid-back and layered folk is a perfect way to wind down the rest of summer.
Local Natives are also currently touring extensively in the west through late September, with a stop Thursday (9/3) at San Diego’s Casbah, and then they’re moving on to Europe for six weeks. Complete list of tourdates is below.
Meanwhile, we caught up Ryan Hahn, Taylor Rice, and Kelcey Ayer to talk Poetic Memory. Check it out.
Van Morrison – Astral Weeks: This is one of those rare instances where all the hyperbole and mythology surrounding a piece of music is truly deserved. Astral Weeks is without a doubt my favorite album of all time. I picked it up as a senior in high school at the recommendation of my uncle. I will always be able to picture myself, driving home from the store in the rain, listening to it for the first time. When I got home, I sat in the driveway and let it play all the way through. The version on my iPod is from my overly used CD copy so at the end of the title track, it skips for a few beats. I’ve listened to it so many times that I can play along to the skips like I’m playing air drums. These songs have become so ingrained in me that they’re like comfort food.
Anytime I hear Astral Weeks, I’m immediately taken back to that time in my life when I first discovered it. I remember all the feelings of possibility and excitement that come with graduating from high school. I remember feeling a growing resolve to play music for the rest of my life. And I remember being inspired musically like I’d never been before. There’s just a magic about the album. It’s raw and un-produced, and the playing is improvisational and confident. It feels so pure and stream of consciousness, almost as if you’re overhearing someone talking in their sleep. When Van sings about being “born again,” its so honest and plaintive that the clichéd use of the phrase seems completely and impossibly distant from the mind. “I may go crazy before that mansion on the hill” he confesses repeatedly like someone who already has. It’s mystical and relatable. In one of my favorite songs of all time, “Sweet Thing”, he sings, “I shall drive my chariot down your streets and cry/it’s me, I’m dynamite and I don’t know why”. It’s a sentiment so beautiful I can only hope to feel it in my lifetime. (Ryan Hahn)
The Zombies – Odessey & Oracle: Like most people, I’d heard “Time of the Season” plenty of times growing up, mostly thanks to oldies radio stations. One day in high school, I remember hearing it suddenly as if for the first time. The iconic bass line, the handclap “ahh,” the unique vocal arrangement, that ridiculously great organ solo – all of it struck me like some big epiphany. I was at the time going through that phase everyone has with the Beatles, obsessing over their entire catalog. But now here was this band, the Zombies, who just under my nose my whole life, had quietly created an album as brilliant as any by the Beatles.
Odessey & Oracle (*with the word Odessey spelled wrong funnily enough) shares similar qualities with the bands of its time and yet is much more sophisticated. The playing is almost jazz-like in its level of musicianship. The song structures and instrumentation are unconventional (i.e. “Changes”, “Hung Up on a Dream”). The lyrics range from whimsical and funny (“Friends of Mine”, “Care of Cell 44”) to somber and haunting (“A Rose for Emily”, “Butcher’s Tale”). Along with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Zombies’ use of vocal harmony has had an enormous impact on our band’s sound. Theirs is dynamic and layered, beautiful and orchestral but never cheesy sounding. This goes for the recording as a whole, which was, from what I understand, a hurried process. I find this hard to believe because the production of this album is just another facet that I find incredible and distinctive. Something that always gets me while listening to Oddessey & Oracle is that this is the sound of a band in its death throes. The Zombies broke up before it was even released. While in my mind it sits duly next to Sgt. Pepper’s, it saddens me that this masterpiece album will remain tragically underappreciated on a wider scale. (Ryan Hahn)
Sufjan Stevens – Illinios: I found Sufjan Stevens in my especially emotionally susceptible first year of college, that time when the world is bright, everything seems new and inspired, etc. etc. Sufjan’s orchestral composition, quirky story-teller lyrics, and fluttery vocals grabbed me immediately as something innovative and unique. I have listened exhaustively to Michigan and the more stripped down Seven Swans, but I regard Illinois as the crown jewel of Sufjan’s recording efforts. The concept album combines fact and fiction to capture snippets of life in the Midwestern state, covering subjects from the 1893 World Fair held in Chicago to John Wayne Gacy Jr., a serial killer who infamously frequented kid parties dressed as a clown.
What I love so much about the songwriting is Sufjan Stevens’ complex layering of improvised and thematic lines over a very simple structure. Most songs on the album are four repeating chords flourished with dozens of strings, horns, and vocal tracks. The tracks build chronologically, and if an Illinois song exceeds the four minute mark, you can count on a dramatic outro, triumphant and compelling. Illinois helped me determine that I view good songwriting as making a song simple and relatable as well as moving and unique. (Taylor Rice)
Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha: Andrew Bird wields a similar virtuosity and orchestration as Sufjan Stevens. Armchair Apocrypha cemented my love for string arrangements and eccentricity in pop music. Soaring violin leads and Bird’s signature hummingbird fast warble of a whistle fill the gaps between his effortlessly flowing vocal melodies. Originally I was drawn to the upbeat thematic tracks on the album, such as “Heretics” and “Darkmatter”. However, the more I listened, the more the subtleties in songs like “Plasticities” and the instrumental “The Supine” stood out.
If you have ever seen Andrew Bird perform live, you’d immediately notice that he almost never sings the same melody as what is on his record. He just sings, it would seem, whatever comes into his head at the moment. The remarkable thing is that each melody seems as elegant and brialliantly conceived as the next. That Bird may be the type of musical genius constrained by his ability to write too many good melodies is supported by rumors that he is fanatically fickle about the final version of his studio recordings. He reportedly recorded up to seven different versions of certain tracks while recording Armchair Apocrypha. Whatever his process, the result is that the record is full of enough amazing melodies to keep you busy listening for months. (Taylor Rice)
Grizzly Bear – Yellow House: A good friend of mine asked me if there was anything recently that has just totally blown me away, and I had a hard time answering him. There have been releases that I’ve enjoyed thoroughly, new bands that I’ve considered myself and the world lucky to have discovered; but there are some records that make you feel like they made it specifically for you. You agree with all of its concepts and ideas and wonder how in the hell you can continue doing anything the same. This is Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House to me.
I can remember years ago, reading countless reviews of this band and this house in which they recorded a record that was supposed to be really good. Ashamed to say, it took me a year of constantly hearing their name and finally asking another friend about it that I got my first taste. I went online and remember listening to “On A Neck, On A Spit” and thinking, “Oh shit.” Soon after somebody burned me a copy; the opening track, “Easier”, started unfurling into this orchestrated mess of interwoven harmonies and instruments that blended in a way that I hadn’t heard before. I was sold.
Every song was a new and exciting ride that I enjoyed so thoroughly it was laughable. They got to the climax of “Lullabye” and I smiled so big my face hurt. “Central and Remote” transported me into a forest out of a J.R. Tolken book. “Marla” invited me into a haunted house where I was waltzing with ghosts and hearing them speak. I knew early on that I was on a transformative journey that would leave me a different person. Music as I knew it was being expanded into a much wider playing field, because to me, Yellow House broke all the rules. It sounded like it did whatever it wanted; verses could use melodies from choruses and vice versa, percussion could jump in and jump out at anytime, the small parts could be just as huge as the big parts. It taught me to let songs loose and rein them in less, as if they were wild animals that looked more beautiful when they were freed to roam, to act on impulse, to be themselves. Yellow House was like a living thing. It still is for me; listening to it now I still find new ways it makes me feel, and above all else it drives me to make something that breaks barriers. (Kelcey Ayer)
Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: It was 2003 and I had to do a religion project (perks of attending a private Catholic high school) with some stuck-up, rich girl I didn’t like (another perk), and I was in her older brother’s Jeep when I noticed this album cover with strange-looking buildings on it. It was Wilco’s masterpiece, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I literally looked at it for a total of 2 minutes before putting it down and doing something else. It made such an inexplicable impression on me and I hadn’t even heard it yet. Two years later we were recording a demo and our producer at the time said he wanted to do a percussion track akin to the feel of “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”, and I asked what that was and he burned me two songs, that and “Jesus, Etc.” I slowly fell in love with the songs, but that push to get the record wasn’t there. Two more years went by and it was 2007. A song playing on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic floored me. The production was so diverse and the song had so many emotional layers; it really grabbed me. I waited for three more tracks until the song-set was over and he said the song was called “Poor Places” by Wilco. I looked it up online and saw it was off of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I knew I had to finally check out this album that kept coming back to me; calling for me.
Even after getting the album, it took me a bit to really understand the genius and magic behind it all. The songs, the tones, the parts, everything is just so pleasing to the ear. The production is so raw and natural, as true and honest as the words that are accompanying it. Melodies and song-structures have always come fairly easy to me, but I have a lot of trouble getting the right words together to say what I want. That’s what got me the most about this album; I think YHF was the first album that I really invested an interest into what was being said. “Ashes Of American Flags” has one of the greatest lines I’ve ever heard: “All my lies are always wishes/I know I would die if I could come back new”. It just speaks volumes. A man so desperate to start again, he would endure death to do it. It’s as honest as it gets; these songs contain no bullshit whatsoever. I have to believe that’s why the album did so well and why it is so perfect to me. If you have great songs with great hooks, recorded in such a daring, interesting way…and they mean something?! You just don’t find records like that everyday, and maybe that’s why they rise to the surface and demand to be heard. (Kelcey Ayer)
Sep 2 Troubadour w/ Heartless Bastards Los Angeles, California
Sep 3 The Casbah w/ Heartless Bastards San Diego, California
Sep 10 Detroit Bar w/ We Barbarians and My Pet Saddle Costa Mesa, California
Sep 12 Cellar Door Visalia, California
Sep 14 The Crepe Place Santa Cruz, California
Sep 15 The Independent w/ Fool’s Gold and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros San Francisco, California
Sep 17 NXNW Festival @ Holocene w/ Amazing Baby and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros Portland, Oregon
Sep 18 KEXP @ NXNW Session Portland, Oregon
Sep 19 High Dive w/ Final Spins Seattle, Washington
Sep 26 O2 Academy 2 (NME Radar Tour) Oxford, UK
Sep 27 University Foundry (NME Radar Tour) Sheffield, UK
Sep 28 Academy 3 (NME Radar Tour) Manchester, UK
Sep 29 Academy 2 Dublin, Ireland
Sep 30 The Duchess (NME Radar Tour) York, UK
Oct 1 Oran Mor (NME Radar Tour) Glasgow, UK
Oct 3 Northumbria University (NME Radar Tour) Newcastle, UK
Oct 4 Sugarmill (NME Radar Tour) Stoke, UK
Oct 5 University Stanley Theater (NME Radar Tour) Liverpool, UK
Oct 7 Wedgwood Rooms (NME Radar Tour) Portsmouth, UK
Oct 8 Thekla (NME Radar Tour) Bristol, UK
Oct 9 Warwick University (NME Radar Tour) Coventry, UK
Oct 10 Civic Hall Bar (NME Radar Tour) Wolverhampton, UK
Oct 12 Waterfront (NME Radar Tour) Norwich, UK
Oct 13 Koko (NME Radar Tour) London, UK
Oct 14 Concorde 2 (NME Radar Tour) Brighton, UK
Oct 15 La Maroquinerie (w/ Peter, Bjorn and John) Paris, France
Oct 16 Paradiso Amsterdam, Holland
Oct 17 Bang Bang Club Berlin, Germany