Its hard to explain Gorilla Manor, my pick for #12, without referencing some of indie pop's biggest other names: Grizzly Bear, Arcade Fire, and Fleet Foxes. However, in all honesty, the Local Natives' debut album doesn't sound much like any of those bands. Sure, there are plenty of three part harmonies with hefty amounts of reverb, coexisting folk and rock styles, and wordless singalong choruses, all of which have become iconic of the indie rock genre. But Local Natives inject a boost of youthful energy and rock sensibility into the music that makes the previously mentioned bands sound like aging middle-aged men. The scraggly percussion of rim shots and tom beats running constant through each of the songs provides even the slower tracks with a shot of afropop adrenaline. The band is lead by three singers, Taylor Rice, Ryan Hahn, and Kelcey Ayer, who each have strong and mature voices, lending some well-needed confidence and variation to the indie rock "frontman" lineup. You won't hear any of the shaky, self-conscious influences of Conor Oberst here. In fact, the band feels confident and cohesive as a whole as well, seemingly comfortable with each other's strengths and collaborating like a band with at least twice their history. The album title, Gorilla Manor, comes from the name of their house/studio that the band and their friends lived and recorded in, so its no wonder the band feels so at home with each other. The other reason why the band feels so unified is that before Local Natives emerged in the indie scene as one of 2010's "best new artists", they were known as Cavil at Rest with the same lineup and a slightly more generic alternative pop rock sound. In other words, these guys have been around for a little while and the reason why their musical characteristics seem so conveniently trendy is because their new image and style was intentionally decided upon. Knowing this, it would be easy to pass off their new style as a superficial and "seeker-friendly". Fortunately, the band's energetic spirit and infectious hooks keep it from ever feeling like a cash-in.
In their first single that became the definitive template for their new sound, "Sun Hands", the Natives balance worldly beats, spiritually earthy lyrics, and just enough yelling, chanting, and aggressive percussion to keep things interesting. Local Natives prove they can tug the heartstrings and write slower, more meaningful songs as well. In what might be the most well-written song on the album, "Who Knows Who Cares", the boys spin a tale of youthful heartbreak, doubt, and reckless abandon amongst a sea of swirling harmonies and bluesy guitar licks. The melody that is thread through the song is strong enough to carry the weight of the entire song, finally exploding at the end, sung in a group of euphoric voices. It were these melodies and harmonies that kept me returning to this album again and again throughout the year show that there is more to these guys than mustaches and conveniently labeled "indie" music characteristics.