Indie rock is no longer the unpredictable genre it once was. It is increasingly performed as down-tempo, folk-based music. It emphasizes sonic space and extended instrumental repetition in its seemingly singular determination to make music feel thoughtful, gently impressionistic and dreamy.
The Los Angeles-based quintet Local Natives venture down this beaten path at their own risk on their debut album, Gorilla Manor. To their credit, they still manage to make the listening journey original.
That's especially true on songs that bring a clear sense of emotional purpose and intensity, like "Airplanes." The song mourns the death of a family mentor: "Every question, you took the time to sit and look it up in the encyclopedia."
The song builds to a refrain of "I want you back." It's a direct and moving appeal to reconnect with a lost loved one, and it's deftly supported by a solid, old-fashioned crescendo. Local Natives even inject a dose of faith: "I bet when I leave my body for the sky, the wait will be well worth it."
Not all the songs on Gorilla Manor are this well done. "Shape Shifter" suffers a common fate of indie impressionism - it's too abstract and baroque. But that's a misstep that is rare on this album. This debut establishes Local Natives as storytellers with a voice strong enough to endure the waning fads of pop.