QuickTakes: Hatchet Arts looks at two debut releases

“Gorilla Manor”

Local Natives

Unlike many bands these days with sounds that seem to focus on a lead singer or front man, L.A. quintet Local Natives works as a collaborative group. On the Natives’ debut album, “Gorilla Manor,” the band bases its sound around carefully arranged vocal harmonies.

From the opening lines of “Wide Eyes,” the listener is swept up into the Natives’ world of sweet melodies. Local Natives’ impressive vocal work reaches its peak on “Who Knows Who Cares.” Guitarist Ryan Hahn sings, “The current has us now, it’s okay. Take into account that it’s all about to change.” Here, the band heightens the emotion of the track while also demonstrating control over its sound as the members’ voices seamlessly weave together.

To claim that the Natives’ sole musical talent is their harmonies would be unfair, however. The track “Cubism Dream” draws the listener in with its blues guitar intro, accompanied by a soft piano part and commanding drum beat. On “Stranger Things,” a beautiful violin melody and steady percussion section mesh well with a backdrop of soft rhythmic chanting that leaves the listener humming along.

Although it is a solid debut album, “Gorilla Manor” is by no means groundbreaking. Local Natives has arrived late on the scene; the group’s ethereal sound and emphasis on vocal harmony have already been pioneered and popularized by bands like the Shins and Fleet Foxes. “Gorilla Manor” is not cutting-edge, but it’s a nice addition to an already developed sound. It will be interesting to see how Local Natives expands on its first attempt in albums to come.
– Patrick Rochelle


“Soft Power”

Bluebrain

Brothers and D.C. natives Ryan and Hays Holladay have hit their musical stride with “Soft Power,” their first full-length release as duo Bluebrain. The album builds on the sound they first explored in their old group The Epochs: a fusion of indie-rock and electronica reliant on dreamy vocals and synthesizers.

While the album as a whole has a dark, introspective feel to it, the first half features a few catchy, strangely danceable songs. Opening track “Royal Blue” is one of the album’s highlights: a funky little number with sweeping string and piano lines and solid drumming. “Doctor Doctor” and the single “Ten by Ten” continue in the same vein as up-tempo, ear-pleasing “indietronica” tunes.

“Soft Power” finishes strong, with songs like the sexy, R&B-influenced “Funny Business” and the bouncy, acoustic “Balcony.” Curiously, the Holladays’ vocals are not the main focus of the songs: shrouded in reverb and at times barely decipherable, they seem more like guides for the music itself.

Recommended for fans of Animal Collective and Gorillaz, “Soft Power” is a promising debut from Bluebrain.
– Caroline Coppel

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