Release Date: Mar 9, 2010
Record label: Rough Trade
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative
Sounding like the lovechild of Brian Wilson and James Mercer, this Berkeley, California, quartet is heavy on charm and unapologetic when it comes to its worship of pop masters, both past and present. It’s not easy writing a good pop song. In fact, doing so successfully is a balancing act between youthful indiscretion and balls-out confidence. Whereas the band’s well-received 2008 full-length, Talking Through Tin Cans, took a quick out-of-the-gate approach to songwriting, Big Echo unfolds at an unexpected leisurely pace.
Album titles can often sum up the albums themselves. Case in point: the Morning Benders' 2008 debut, Talking Through Tin Cans, a collection of boilerplate indie rock that borrowed more than a bit from the Shins' jangle pop. Despite a few bright spots, the record branded the San Franciscan outfit with a second-tier reputation. Add that to the fact that the Shins aren't groundbreakers themselves, and Talking Through Tin Cans begins to sound as limited as the rudimentary children's activity suggested in its title.
Frontman Chris Chu is a fan -- a borderline disciple, even -- of iconic pop bands, and the Morning Benders are still anchored by his melodies, even if they’re now flanked by textured arrangements and an active backup band. While Talking Through Tin Cans was almost a Chu solo project, Big Echo relies fairly heavily on the whole group, with electric guitars replacing Tin Cans’ acoustics and dense, layered soundscapes reigning supreme throughout. Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor shares production duties with Chu, and the two brew up something majestic with tracks like “All Day Daylight,” a fizzy ode to summer, and “Excuses,” which opens the album with orchestral percussion and waltzing strings.
After linking themselves to every significant indie scene in the country in the last three years (L. A. ’s Silver Lake, San Francisco, Williamsburg), forging a sonic and friendly relationship with the hotter-than-dog-shit Girls, and soliciting production help from one-fourth of Grizzly Bear (Chris Taylor), Morning Benders are suddenly a “band to watch.
This second album marks a huge step forward for The Morning Benders following their 2008 debut Talking Through Tin Cans. That record was largely forgettable; its straight-forward approach to American indie-rock the sound of a band that lacked scope in ambition and song-writing, sounding five years out of date even at the time of its release. It was enough, in all honesty, to make this reviewer almost write them off forever.
Gradually riding a crest of slow-building, long-coming interest, the Morning Benders have proven themselves to be the Little Band That Could, toeing the line between old fashioned hard work and the contemporary music scene’s accelerated blogosphere hype. With a respectable catalog behind them (a clutch of DIY EPs and a charming full-length, all mostly self-recorded and bubbling with sunny, effervescent pop gems), songwriter/de-facto leader Chris Chu and his gang of ramshackle band mates have slowly paved their long and winding path toward their emergence in the indie spotlight, culminating in the jump from their modest tenure at +1 Records to a significantly higher profile with stalwarts Rough Trade. Hardly an overnight sensation, the Berkeley, California indie-pop-ers have benefited from avoiding the expedited downfall and backlash most hype bands face following such a hurried rise to the top.
An unassuming, doggedly likable record, the Morning Benders’s 2008 debut, Talking Through Tin Cans, managed to balance frontman and principal songwriter Chris Chu’s dead-on instincts for polished pop hooks with a garage-band sensibility. That laidback, ramshackle approach distinguished the band from the glut of Shins soundalikes on the indie-pop landscape. The Morning Benders’s sophomore effort, Big Echo, underwhelms, then, because it strains to make the trio sound like countless other acts currently mining a retro-minded aesthetic for instant indie cred.
Following a few years of blog love and word-of-mouth hype, the Morning Benders are ready for their close-up. The Berkeley four-piece's second full-length and first for the venerable Rough Trade label finds the band fleshing out their sound with production help from Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor, whose presence looms large. [rssbreak] The Grizzly Bearification is mostly beneficial; layered arrangements and a new sense of dynamics beef up otherwise one-dimensional West Coast pop tunes.
Big Echo sounds exactly how a band named The Morning Benders should sound. True to its title, the record is a hazy, zephyrean reverie that conjures the feeling of waking up after a night of heavy drinking, where every outside stimulus seems to meet your senses as if through a layer of gauze. But it’s not as though they’ve entirely abandoned the sunshine pop of debut album Talking Through Tin Cans.
The Morning Benders return with Big Echo, a sonic masterpiece that combines new wave elements with honest vocals. Encapsulating vibrant and soothing sounds, this album calms listeners as they hear tracks that are easily reminiscent of The Beach Boys. Present are a few mediocre songs but they are easily overshadowed by the abundance of addictive melodies and beautiful reverberation.
Interference Interference joins the arty tribal noise wing of New York City rock on its debut album, “Interference” (The Social Registry). The songs have pushy funk bass lines, flinty guitar dissonances, some squeally horns and a junkyard’s worth of metallic percussion, interspersed with deadpan vocals: “She said home she said now she said here/she said right she said then she said destroy.” An absence of computer-generated sounds is the giveaway that “Interference” was actually recorded in 1982, when downtown Manhattan spawned ideas now cherished in Brooklyn. Band members had worked with Sonic Youth and Rhys Chatham, but Interference’s lone studio album went unreleased on disc until now.
An easy-going, superbly summery second album from the Californian quartet. Mike Diver 2010 If it’s a pleasantly summery sound you’re after while the sun beats down – best not get too used to it, eh? – then you could do a lot worse than seek out the second album from Californian quartet The Morning Benders. Splicing Beach Boys harmonies with the indie-folk mutterings of Grizzly Bear – imagine the New Yorkers had recorded Veckatimest on the west, rather than the east, coast – Big Echo is an immediate, inviting listen.