Awash in the indulgences common to neophyte troubadours, the first album by Jaws Of Love—Local Natives’ Kelcey Ayers’ overpunctuated pet project—nonetheless manages to avoid the major hurdle usually tripping up solo debuts from members of prominent bands. Tasha Sits Close To The Piano doesn’t sound much at all like Local Natives. Then again, smartly eschewing most every component of the indie pop-rockers baroque jangle, it really couldn’t.
However dearly a swiftly mushrooming army of diehards may yearn for new material, the intensity of the tastemaker faves’ appeal doesn’t quite guarantee the value of any Local Native hero. Even to the extent most decent acts are more than the sum of their parts, the Los Angeles collective’s signal attraction feels inherently indivisible. Perfectly multitracked vocals from Ayers (likely their strongest singer) couldn’t come close to capturing the Natives’ heavensent harmonies, and tribal rhythms for one just seems wrong. Written and recorded in the weeks surrounding the sessions for LN’s 2016 release, Tasha Sits Close To The Piano finds Ayers tickling the ivories below each melancholic paean to love’s battlefield.
With a largely forgivable eagerness, Ayer unabashedly embraces the clumsier experimentations tempting any band member suddenly granted full license and bountiful studio time (power corrupts; absolute power engenders sax bleats) but Jaws Of Love. noticeably benefits from his creative wanderings. While we shouldn’t confuse funk-dappled piano balladry with any sort of groundbreaking vision, there’s a reason the template has long appealed to folk’d-up singer/songwriters bleeding their hearts into bedsit recordings. Jaws Of Love. never really tries to approach the relative complexity marking the Local Natives’ best work, but that higher craft earned through collaboration comes at some cost. TSCTTP feels necessarily more personalized and thereby all the more casually resonant than the bloodless inanities seemingly workshopped to death by the Natives.
Ayers clearly intended the solo collection to serve as something of a concept album examining the transcendent joys and daunting frustrations of marriage – his significant other titled the album after the family dog’s preferred positioning – and the theme neatly matches his particular strengths. On record, at least, the couple appears to thrive within an endlessly-analyzed co-dependency trailing incandescent cheekbones, dressed-down glamour, and a blinkered preoccupation with moment-to-moment relationship health. One imagines the sort of oh-so-millennial lovers, equally ridiculed and envied, to briefly excuse themselves from every dinner party for a quietly intense exchange on the balcony. More than just dovetailing with his own lyrical sensibilities, the loose-limned portrait of keening fragility marked by heights of swooning loveliness also describes Ayer’s vocals precisely.
For all its blessings, the album doesn’t exactly presage the coming of an exciting new solo artist. No listener (save, perhaps, Tasha) would credit the resulting effort as especially mature, but a bit more emotive navel-gazing could help enliven the dullish sheen of his day job. After their last LP Sunlit Youth embraced electronic textures with all the showily-pointless flourish of a late-life mosaics course, Local Natives need a bit of awkward indulgence. Before you can love anyone else, as the old saying goes, you must first love yourself.