Back on 2013’s ‘Hummingbird’, Local Natives took glances inward, mixing up-tempo cuts with more introspective, quieter moments. One of these was ‘Colombia’, a piano-driven lament that saw Kelcey Ayer addressing – and pleading to – his recently deceased mother. On their most recent album, ‘Sunlit Youth’, the band pivoted away from the type of Californian indie-rock that originally defined them to shiny, pop-leaning grooves.
But on his new solo album under the name Jaws of Love., Kelcey returns to the zone four years ago where he weaved emotion around piano. Albeit, ‘Tasha Sits Close To The Piano’ isn’t as heart-breaking. It is, after all, an album named by his wife referencing his dog. But it’s that kind of homeliness that forms the thinking behind the record as a whole. Realising that he didn’t have to craft love songs purely around bad times – and that there can still be turbulence even in the most stable of relationships – he has crafted a collection that indulges his love of slightly darkened piano music.
But that’s not to say that ‘Tasha Sits Close To The Piano’ is entirely comprised of stripped-back ballads. Quite the contrary. Kelcey has crafted something deeply atmospheric that mixes in washes of vintage, often ambient, synthesisers, heartbeat-like drums from fellow Local Native Matt Frazier and textured splashes of strings that weave between his own often cascading, lilting vocals. The results are often dramatic. The programming and loops of his voice on ‘Microwaves.’ becomes thoroughly hypnotic, while ‘Everything.’ builds slowly into a crescendo filled with smoky, noir brass and saxophone that’s heart-stopping.
The level of drama imbued into the album prevents it from becoming too saccharine, especially on the likes of ‘Hawaiian Licence Plates.’ where Kelcey repeatedly sings the line “your love is all I see”, or on the slightly more sugary ‘Costa Rica.’ There are times when the layers of sound can become a little overwhelming though - the melodies explode and his voice stretches to reach the same stratospheric heights on ‘Lake Tahoe.’. Luckily, there’s a little relief provided. The muted ‘Shrink…’ marries glacial electronics that hover in the background, allowing Kelcey and his piano some added breathing room. ‘Love Me Like I’m Gone’ is similarly restrained, centring mainly on intricately-plucked guitar, but its folk vibes jar against the sudden end to ‘Everything.’.
Despite this, ‘Tasha Sits Close To The Piano’ is clearly an album imbued with deep feeling poured straight from the heart; Kelcey himself even says that Jaws of Love. represents his own self in its truest form. Hearing him be vulnerable and honest about love in this way is, much like it was on ‘Hummingbird’, often an engaging listen, even if he does sometimes stray into the realms of melodrama.