Release Date: Jun 12, 2012
Record label: Rough Trade
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Pop
POP ETC, formerly known as The Morning Benders (or, if you will, R&B heartbreakers, formerly known as indie rockers), reveal a surprising shift in musical direction on their new-self-titled third release. Although the band’s new name and album cover suggest that POP ETC is pulling its new sound from every corner of pop music, the genre that comes through the clearest is definitely R&B (some production was handled by Kanye and Lil’ Wayne contributor Andrew Dawson, and Danger Mouse). The album borrows from almost every phase of modern R&B, from the Puff Daddy “tell your friends, to get with my friends” spoken-word breakdown on “Yoyo” to the T-Pain Auto-Tuned vocals on almost every track.
Pop Etc used to be called The Morning Benders, and if you’re going to indulge in a name change you may as well also indulge yourself in a self-titled album. Tying into an ‘it’s hip to be square’ mentality, ‘Pop Etc’ is mostly good geeky. ‘New Life’ oozes with Drive soundtrack appeal, while ‘Keep It For Your Own’ (produced by Danger Mouse) is extremely Broken Bells, with frontman Chris Chu’s vocals morphing breezily into James Mercer’s Garden State croon.
When long-running indie unit the Morning Benders changed their name in early 2012, it was the last logical step in a series of changes that preceded it, having moved from San Francisco to Brooklyn, switched up their band membership, and -- as evidenced by their debut as POP ETC -- lost almost all of their indie rock and chamber pop leanings in favor of a stab at the kind of hyper-produced R&B-informed pop that defines early-2010s mainstream radio. The Morning Benders cycled through some pretty heavy borrowing phases, first from the Shins' gloomily romantic indie sound and later from Grizzly Bear's rustic acoustic orchestrations. The self-titled debut from POP ETC says goodbye to all that, salvaging only the most basic elements of bandleader Christopher Chu's songwriting sensibilities and switching out the melancholic rock forms of the past for Auto-Tuned vocals and minimal yet huge electronic beats.
If you were a fan of The Morning Benders, you will not recognize the band's first album since their name change, the self-titled POP ETC. Earlier this year, the band announced a name change—they discovered "morning benders" is a homophobic slur in the U.K., so, admirably, they traded brand awareness for a non-offensive name, POP ETC. .
On their sophomore and breakthrough album, Big Echo, the Morning Benders built a compelling sound of jangling guitars and reverb saturated harmonies that was steeped in decades old influences, while remaining firmly tethered to the contemporary musical moment. This melding of past and present continues to inform the band’s work as POP ETC, but the rock based sounds of the ’60s have been supplanted by the canned beats and synthesizers of the ‘80s and early ‘90s. And while POP ETC is composed of three-fourths of the members of the Morning Benders, that is where the similarities between the two projects end.
POP ETCPOP ETC[Rough Trade; 2012]By Rob Hakimian; June 15, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetLast year, when The Morning Benders contributed a cover of The Strokes’ “Last Nite” to Stereogum’s Is This It tribute album, the fact that they had used a minimal electronic kind of sound instead of the baroque pop found on their glorious 2010 album Big Echo lead me to describe it as “limp” and “a disappointment. ” Little did I know that this was only the tip of the iceberg. Fast forward a year and The Morning Benders no longer exist; they are now POP ETC and that cover of “Last Nite” makes much more sense in hindsight, it being a sign of what was to come on this, POP ETC’s self-titled debut album (or third album, depending on which way you look at it, but considering the leap in sound, I feel more comfortable considering it a debut).
Two clichés that seem to pop up a lot in writing about music: One artist might "know his lane and stay in it," while another "moves outside of her comfort zone." There is virtue in both approaches. On the one hand, it's admirable to know what you do best and parlay that strength into a work to match (see the Ramones or Beach House). On the other, it's hard not to respect when someone decides to do something different with the hope that his or her audience will follow along (see Beck or Joni Mitchell).
Opening with a track called “New Life” signals the rebirth opportunity that this album is for POP ETC. Formerly known as The Morning Benders, the group changed their name due to an unfortunate connotation with a UK-based slur against the LBGT community. Debuting with a totally new name and a self-titled debut for it lets them both leave that misstep in the past and re-establish themselves with a new identity.
Staying the course, Berkeley, California’s POP ETC stays true to their name by showing their true synth pop colors on their new self-titled album, which was released on June 12th on Rough Trade Records. Bright and playful melodies dapple the canvas as they demonstrate their flare on popular electronica. This trio is made up of members of former indie popster bombshell The Morning Benders and is known musically by their trademark flowing vocals, bouts of rhythmic backing tracks, and overall positive charisma, which is ever present on their debut album.