The Morning Benders have chosen a name that doesn’t lend itself well to a British audience (‘bender’ means something quite different over here). With that in mind, it’ll take more work than usual to stop us sniggering and start taking the band seriously – luckily with Big Echo, the Berkeley band’s second album, they have put in the required effort and then some. This is gorgeous. For two years straight, this blog has enabled me to soundtrack my summer with a song so effervescent and sunny that it’s barely left my ears for months (see: This Is Ivy League, The Drums). This year it seems I haven’t just got a summer song, but a summer album, and it’s a little different to what’s come before.
This isn’t a summer album in the sense of unbridled joy and optimism, this was made for lying on the grass to, staring too long at the sun and listening to the birds (if you weren’t listening to this album instead of course) – it runs the gamut from quiet melancholia (‘Wet Cement), past laconic experimentation (‘Pleasure Sighs’) and straight into songs that don’t so much energise as pep up (‘Hand Me Downs’). What the band seem to have mastered is a sense of restraint with their music, not in an xx sense of complete quietness, but in not allowing themselves to go over the top too quickly, letting the song bubble before bringing it to the boil in one wonderful moment of release. Because of this, the listening experience is incredibly rewarding, taking in every quiet moment and being surprised and elated by the louder ones.
It’s not just the songcraft that makes this so wonderful though, the band have created an overall sound that transcends the usual indie-pop template. Sure, they are ostensibly an indie band, and at times Chris Chu’s voice is a dead ringer for Julian Casablancas, but there’s a lot more to them – their harmonies are ’50s through and through whilst their production is indebted to Phil Spector and ’60s pop in general. It’s an intriguing mix, and one that throws up some beautiful creations. Opener and first single ‘Excuses’ is a bewildering mix of harmonic action and well-considered chorus work whilst ‘Mason Jar’ is an echoing, drum-heavy track that sounds like a sweltering day in the inner city. In fact, the weakest tracks are when the older elements are dispensed with. ‘All Day Day Light’ pushes the Strokes reference into the instrumentation too and suffers for it – despite being a good pop song, it lacks the interest of what comes before.
It’s the constant interest in just what could come next that makes Big Echo quite as good as it is; like a good book, you never quite want to stop listening and come back to it later. In fact, that question of suitability for a British audience is ultimately what affirms the sound of this album – just like a British summer, you’re never sure if the next song will be rainy, sunny or thundery, and maybe that’s what makes it so much fun. Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m going to get some shorts and grab a lemona- Oh, it’s raining.