The Morning Benders - Big Echo
Record Label: Rough Trade
Release Date: March 9, 2010
Big Echo takes the sunny pop songwriting of The Morning Benders' debut album Talking Through Tin Cans and adds layers and layers of joyful haze, creating a fuller, more fleshed-out sound. While their music has previously drawn comparisons to The Shins and iconic pop bands like The Beach Boys, when listening to this album, I can't help but think of Grizzly Bear. Not that it sounds like Yellow House or Veckatimest-- it doesn't-- but it seems as though frontman Chris Chu heard "Two Weeks" and loved its gorgeous soaring hook but could do without the creaky lo-fi sketches that round out the Grizzly Bear catalog. Whatever the inspiration, The Morning Benders have produced a marvelously tight collection of pure pop bliss.
"Excuses" opens things with a sweeping, expansive, string-laden sound and beautifully fluttery vocal melody. It's clear from the outset that this is going to be a very different record than its predecessor. Indeed, only "Cold War" and "All Day Day Light" border on the punchy, strummy rock of their debut. Mostly everything else here aims for grander gestures. While no song on Talking Through Tin Cans exceeded four minutes, a full half of the tunes on Big Echo eclipse that mark, allowing them to swell and fill up any empty spaces. It's truly an indulgent, maximalist, wall-of-sound type of record, and every second is wonderful because of it.
Despite the album's wondrous arrangements and sterling production, without Chu's perfectly expressive vocal performance, it might have come off like a movie with ultra-detailed and immersive settings but lacking an engaging plotline. Luckily, his melodies are so nuanced and sparkling, with notes bending in just the right places, they never allow you to turn your attention away. Some may see this as a negative, but Big Echo seems at times to be written so as to require as little patience as possible on the part of the listener.
Of course, that's a generalization and over-simplification-- as chock full of sonic goodness as they all are, these songs are even more than the sum of their parts. "Promises" is a percussive stomp, but those subtle, plinky arpeggios add welcome flair. "Pleasure Sighs" is a lovely ballad, but without those clangy guitars careening off the studio walls, sopping with reverb, it's just another lovely ballad. Almost every moment is stuffed to its bursting point with layers, and yet it never sounds whimsical, as though superfluous stuff was added, just to take up space. As they were written, these songs were begging for the production treatment they got.
Modern indie rock bands often fall prey to two common pitfalls, either being exceedingly boring by failing to offer anything new and by recycling played-to-death conventions, or attempting to do something fresh but falling so far down the avant-garde wormhole that they defy the comprehension of most listeners. With Big Echo, The Morning Benders do a tremendous job of sidestepping both potential hazards. It's not extraordinarily original, but they do a masterful job at piecing together classic pop elements in an incredibly thoughtful and enjoyable way, crafting an album that's sure to please indie snobs, pop purists and, well, anyone else who might be listening.