Orange County’s Local Natives is a band you’ve probably heard of, even if you haven’t heard of them. The five piece have released three albums to critical acclaim since 2010, and I find myself nodding my head knowingly to their tracks without ever having committed myself to listening to a long-player in full. They’ve infiltrated the indie rock consciousness in a way that only a few bands still can, now that that genre is not nearly as robust as it used to be. With narrowing space for rock bands that don’t have a gimmick or a particularly killer debut to distinguish themselves, Local Natives occupies a rarefied space in which, after seven years plying their wares, people are still happy to listen, turn up, chill out. In modern terms, years are even longer than dog years, so a band nearing on seven is effectively 100 for all intents and purposes. Rattling towards extinction in this way, it’s little wonder that a band member might want to branch out and change things up.
Jaws Of Love is just that change. It’s not that Local Natives is approaching anything like creative stasis. On the contrary, ‘Sunlit Youth’ is a collection of twelve songs as strong as any the band has written historically. Rather, the band can only adapt within the confines of what the band has already come to signify. If one of five wakes up one day and decides he doesn’t want to do salt water-washed indie rock (‘Sunlit Youth’ was recorded in Malaysia, Nicaragua, Hawaii and Thailand) he can’t really alter the course of the ship that quickly. What Kelcey Ayer (vocals, keyboard, songwriting, among other things) did, then, was to, what he told one publication, ‘indulge himself’, by writing the kind of piano-driven tracks that Local Natives wouldn’t – and reasonably, couldn’t – release. The solo breakout is so often described in these apologetic terms but here, Ayer need not excuse the decision. The two tracks I’ve heard from his forthcoming ‘Tasha Sits Close To The Piano’ are pretty beautiful.
I choose ‘Love Me Like I’m Gone’ because, unlike his eponymous single, it is not an epic piano ballad, but an acoustic guitar-driven sketch (at less than 3′ long) that is neither as clean nor polished as anything Local Natives have put on record in three attempts. Instead, ‘Love Me Like I’m Gone’ feels incredibly intimate, as though Ayer is sitting in whatever room you’re in, speaking the language that your heart understands. That affinity is reinforced by a lo-fi approach to recording, which means that we hear every tweak of the guitar, every crackle in his voice as he reaches for the seemingly banal ‘I knocked the vase off the shelf’, imbuing it with emotion. The simple domesticity of the scenes Ayer describes, and the impassioned plea at the centre of it all, evokes Ben Folds’ ‘Brick’, if not quite reaching its gut-wrenching lows. The harmonies that characterize Local Natives’ work play out in Jaws of Love’s detailed melodies, such that even with only a guitar for company, the results are transfixing. If this is indulgence, I’m happy to indulge Mr. Ayer.
Jaws Of Love – Love Me Like I’m Gone