Hummingbird – Local Natives (Guest Post)
As I’m sure any enthusiastic fan can relate, waiting for the sophomore effort from a band is full of hopes and fears. You pray in some way that it is more of the same, and yet you want them to be EVEN better. In this way, the band, Local Natives, did not disappoint. Their second album, Hummingbird, is noticeably different from their first in tone and lyrics, and yet the same vocal harmonies and infectious percussion are still there—reminding you why you love them. While their debut album, Gorilla Manor, felt like the ramblings of a carefree, joyful twenty something, with instantly catchy and likeable songs to match, this album feels much darker upon first listen. The tone throughout is somber and reflective (perhaps a reflection of producer Aaron Dessner of the National). This is not surprising owing to the fact that they have gone through pain and loss over the past year, first with the departure of their bassist Andy Hamm and then the loss of lead vocalist Kelcey Ayer’s mother. To be sure, the band could have easily followed the same beautiful formula that made their first album so immediately inviting and fun to listen to. But it seems fitting that even their sound has matured through pain and loss which is how most everyone matures. And in this instance, I found the album very relatable. While subtlety is key and each song requires you to hang on and listen closely, there are high notes with songs such as “Black Balloons” and “Breakers” which gives some balance to the record. But songs such as “Colombia” and “Black Spot” immediately evoke emotion, which invite introspection. I want to focus on the defining moment of the album and what may be the best song they have written. “Colombia” is the tenth song on the album and starts off with a simple drum beat, followed by a lone piano solo that drones on like a funeral procession. Ayer then sings alone, his voice aching and breathy with beautiful lyrics to match:
The day after I had counted down
all of your breaths
down until there were none, were none, were none,
A hummingbird crashed right
in front of me, and I understood
all you did for us.
You gave, and gave, and gave, and gave.
Every night I ask myself,
am I giving enough?
If you never knew how much,
if you never felt all of my love,
I pray now you do, you do, you do, you do.
Every night I ask myself, am I loving enough? Am I loving enough?
At this point guitars, both electric and acoustic come in to harmonize with the piano. The piano then leaves the central focus as slowly building drums crash into an ever rising guitar that take you into the most haunting part of the song, which is repeated twice, then ends abruptly:
Patricia, every night I’ll ask myself
Am I giving enough?
Patricia, every night I’ll ask myself
Am I loving enough?
Presumably, Ayer is speaking about his mother, represented by the hummingbird, who crashes suddenly, symbolizing death. We are then left with uncertainty. Ayer prays that she knows how much he loved her which speaks of lost opportunity. At this point, I can’t help but get choked up, because how often do we take for granted our loved ones, and how easily are they taken away? Then the same haunting question is repeated throughout the song. “Am I giving enough? Am I loving enough?” Perhaps he is comparing himself to the legacy she left. Perhaps he wants to live up to how she “gave and gave and gave“. Perhaps he feels guilty. As a friend expressed when talking to her about this album, this song is like a small message to our generation. And I can’t help but agree.
As someone has already brilliantly addressed, although thankfully YOLO had a short blip on the radar of our culture, that same attitude that your life is yours, without regard to any notion of a sovereign God still persists. However, the reality is, our lives are not our own, we will be held accountable and people will be deeply affected by them, both by the absence and presence of your love and grace. How will you be remembered? Ayer is deeply affected by the legacy that his mother left and wants desperately to know if he is a good person, if he is loving and giving enough.
As Ayer, sings to his mother, it’s somewhat clear that he’s mourning lost time or lost opportunity to make his love known. And I think we can all identify with that in some way. Busy schedules, distance, and time seem to all get in the way of connecting with loved ones at times. Or perhaps relationships have been strained and it’s hard to know where to start again. But faced with the sorrow and longing captured in this song, one cannot help but realize that now is the time for reconciliation. Now is the time to give and give all you can to those around you. Because no one knows when that opportunity will be gone.
Here is a link to the song:
I can’t wait to see what this band has in store for us next.