The indie band Local Tourist live up to their name. In 2018, U.S.-based songwriter Erin Umstead visited New Zealand on a working holiday visa. While traveling around the country, she found herself in Christchurch at a gig by the jangle-pop band Salad Boys. Umstead eventually struck up a friendship and creative partnership with that group’s leader, Joe Sampson, as well as another local musician, drummer Rory Dalley. Together, the trio started playing shows and writing songs under the name Local Tourist.
Other Ways of Living, the band’s debut album, came together under far less idyllic circumstances. The band members were limited by time—Umstead’s stay in New Zealand had an expiration date due to her visa—and tracked the bulk of the album in just a few days. Consider it a testament to the band’s chemistry and focus that these limits didn’t hamper Other Ways of Living‘s execution; the music is languid and deliberate, and doesn’t sound rushed or haphazard. A delicate urgency threads its way through “Alive,” an indie rock song that resembles the more stripped-back moments on Hole’s Live Through This, while the guitar textures on the lithe “Colors” are moody and desolate.
Lyrically, Other Ways of Living is defined by a sensation of loss. “How You Left It” and “Hemisphere” boast spare arrangements with minimal overdubs and an abundance of aching space, while faint hints of whispering percussion cushion Umstead’s dusky voice on “Undone.” On the former, Umstead sings taking a bold emotional leap (“Hold my heart for me/ While I’m overseas”) but mentions there’s still dissatisfaction present: “These aren’t the words/ I want to speak/ So I eat them/ And don’t feel full at all.” Her liminal language reinforces the album’s other chief theme, which is feeling torn between worlds—two locations, two lives, two creative paths.
Album highlight “Colors” grew out of Umstead finding solace in the vulnerability of the band (“Beyond the empty nights/ Is something full of light”), while having her life turned upside down by an intense personal connection (“I want to be safe/ Inside your mind/ Just like you are/ In mine”). Similarly, on “Undone,” Umstead weighs the potential for unconditional love (“Like a drink of water/ We need each other,” she proposes, her sly tone verging on conspiratorial) against the broader insecurities she can’t seem to shake. As the song fades out amid a din of humming guitar, she repeats the word “undone,” almost to herself. Even with the possible backdrop of good news, Local Tourist can’t bear to let the tension go—but with tantalizing byproducts like these, such ambivalence may very well be their greatest asset.