The Morning Benders

5. Sleigh Bells Treats

Sleigh Bells make me want to believe in questionable tales. If the story that Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller were a failed girl group member and hardcore guitarist respectively isn’t true, it will still be a perfect way to explain their music. But if it is true, then that’s so much better, because it just makes the fact that this album could ever have been made that much more improbable and, thus, wonderful. I could spend time making up torturous ‘sounds like’ similes here, but nothing betters that origin story. Then again, this is my blog, so fuck you. This is the sound of a sugar-induced migraine. Ha, too easy.

Sleigh Bells – Infinity Guitars (YSI)

4. The Morning BendersBig Echo

Equally indebted to early Noughties indie and ’60s pop groups, Big Echo is an unpredictable album. Demure and harmonic at one moment, it can become familiarly punchy the next without warning. When I first listened to it, I thought it could quite easily be a “summer” album, one that never stands up against the first few blissful listens when you got it. Upon relistening, its charms are still brilliantly evident – Chris Chu’s Casablancas intonations, the willingness to slow the tempo (‘Pleasure Sighs’ is a simply incredible show of pacing and gradualised songwriting) and a propensity for simply excellent harmonies pop up throughout. Equilibrium is all here – a sense of action and restraint is ever-present, and it’s their constant struggle for dominance that makes this album such a brilliant listening experience.

The Morning Benders – Wet Cement (YSI)

3. DeerhunterHalcyon Digest

I’m almost incredulous at my previous indifference to this band now. Halcyon Digest is a tumult of experimentation, not in the noodly, self-indulgent sense, but in the sense of playing with how guitar music can be stretched and reformed into new and more interesting shapes. It never lets go of its central core – this is American indie at its heart, but Cox and co. never allow it to get stale. The underwater tones of ‘Helicopter’, ‘Sailing’s simplistic, faraway tone or ‘He Would Have Laughed’, a shambling tribute to Jay Reatard, all come from the same sensibility, but have ended up in very different musical territories. This is music that’s unafraid to take you somewhere you didn’t know you wanted to go.

Deerhunter – Helicopter (YSI)

2. HarlemHippies

This could be so easy to dismiss. It sounds like any number of other bands, it’s doing nothing new, it’s juvenile. But here’s the deciding factor. Show me another album this year that sounds like more fun than this one. Bet you can’t. Hippies is the sound of friends making music for fun and nothing more, and never suffers for that. Michael Coomer and Curtis O’Mara’s alternating, breathless deliveries seemingly never let up, the drumming’s fantastically frenetic and every song sounds like an old friend. When I’m listening to this kind of music, I ask for nothing more than this – that the songs that are short, sharp and barely professional. Harlem deliver on every front.

Harlem – Faces (YSI)

1. MeursaultAll Creatures Will Make Merry

2010 was the year that saw me properly, deeply fall in love with Meursault. Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues hooked me good and deep. The Nothing Broke EP made me realise just how talented this band was. But it took All Creatures Will Make Merry for me to forego any kind of detached journalistic cool and throw myself wholeheartedly into unabashed fawning at their feet. No other album has made me run the gamut of emotions this one has; sheer sadness in ‘Crank Resolutions’, singalong contentment in ‘One Day This’ll All Be Fields’, sheer energy in ‘What You Don’t Have’ and barely concealed terror in ‘New Ruin’ – it has it all.

I’ve searched for a long time for how to articulate just why I think this isn’t just one of the best records I’ve heard this year, but in my life, and I think it comes down to this: There is no song on this album that feels constructed. By that I don’t mean in a songwriting sense, these are clearly meticulously designed and nurtured compositions, but in the sense that every one feels entirely natural to the band – whether it be the lyrics, the raw emotion in Neil’s vocals or the incredible interplay between electronics and more organic sound. There’s no experimentation if the feeling was there the whole time.

Meursault are not a band who are finding their sound, their niche or their fans – they are a band who seem to follow a path laid out for them alone, and the singular nature of All Creatures Will Make Merry shows that perfectly. This is the best album of the year, for me, because it sounds like no-one else, and I’m not sure anyone else could sound like this.

Basically, if you haven’t listened to this, your life isn’t as good as it could be, so, you know, get on it.

Meursault – All Creatures Will Make Merry (YSI)

Phew, what a day! So now that that’s all done, here’s the final list:

1. Meursault – All Creatures Will Make Merry
2. Harlem – Hippies
3. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
4. The Morning Benders – Big Echo
5. Sleigh Bells – Treats
6. Mountain Man – Made The Harbor
7. Beach House – Teen Dream
8. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
9. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
10. Good Shoes – No Hope, No Future
11. Bombay Bicycle Club – Flaws
12. The National – High Violet
13. Spoon – Transference
14. Woodpigeon – Die Stadt Muzikanten
15. Working For A Nuclear Free City – The Jojo Burger Tempest
16. Johnny Flynn – Been Listening
17. Timber Timbre – Timber Timbre
18. The Savings and Loan – Today I Need Light
19. Vampire Weekend – Contra
20. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – OST

Merry Christmas one and all!

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.

The Morning Benders – Pleasure Sighs (YSI)

It’s one of those days where I’ve been listening to bits and pieces of new music but nothing’s really jumping out at me as the subject of a major post. “So,” thought I, “why don’t I write a little bit about each one?” And here we are.

I was a little suspicious of Smith Westerns at first. They claim to be influenced primarily by ’70s glam rock but they peddle just the kind of fuzzed-out retro garage beloved by Black Lips. Add to to that the kind of purposefully badly recorded vocals that have really never done anything for me and we have the makings of a forgettable band. But on listening closer, the glam influences come through, not in the instrumentation but in their approach to songcraft. There’s a sense of disinterested cool that slows the songs down but a need to play the guitars as loud as possible and it’s in those moments of sheer abandon that this sounds less like a group of kids wanting to sound like their contemporaries and more like a band who play exactly how they want to – just as Marc Bolan did all those years ago. This is shambling, kick-drum heavy rock designed to chill out to in summer and irritate your parents, which, given the ridiculous youth of the band, is probably exactly what it was meant for.

Smith Westerns – Be My Girl (YSI)

Whenever I hear that The Futureheads are going to release a new album, I get a mixed sense of joy and trepidation. You see, I consider their debut album to be almost perfect; completely full of breakneck post-punk pop songs that grab you and refuse to let go until Barry Hyde’s wonderful vocals have finally given out. Since the halcyon days of that first album, they’ve never quite lived up to that genius again. News and Tributes was a far more self-conscious album, and one that I felt didn’t suit the band and This Is Not The World regained some their initial enthusiasm but never quite reached the heights of that first effort. But after hearing their new ‘Heartbeat Song’, I can’t help but feel that third time’s a charm. It certainly wouldn’t sound out of place on the debut album, but there’s enough of a change in tone to avoid making it a replication. Possessing the kind of youthful exuberance (and oddly, a similar guitar tone in places) that Blink-182 used to do so well, but with a British punk sensibility firmly in place, the signs for fourth album The Chaos are very good indeed.

The Futureheads – Heartbeat Song (YSI)

The Futureheads – Struck Dumb (Changed at label’s request)

This one comes courtesy of Hanan over at Music Induced Euphoria, whose sheer irrepressability about how good this band are won me over. The Morning Benders don’t disappoint – at least as far as I can tell by listening to ‘Excuses’. Built around a furiously strummed acoustic guitar and the occasional echoing drum, this possibly simplistic song is elevated into the blue skies of the stratosphere by Chris Chu’s summery vocal tones, beautifully old-school, almost barbershop, harmonies and the gorgeous string-filled crescendo of an ending. Look up the cover of their new album Big Echo and you’ll see just why they chose that image of seaside bliss as soon as you hear this song.

The Morning Benders – Excuses (YSI)

The Active Set are another one of those bands who’ve had a track sitting in my inbox for a fair old while, and made me regret it once I’ve listened to them. ‘Sea Legs’ is a slow-building beast drawing on elements of The National (epic, dark, full of drums), early Bloc Party, Echo & The Bunnymen and god knows what else. It’s a long track at over five minutes, but the band pack so much action into that time that it could easily be twice as long and still sound full. What centres it all is Matthew Stolarz’ mournful vocals that flicker between British inflections and the LA punk that he once was, saying very little, but saying it well. ‘So far I’m still looking to the land, I haven’t found my sea legs/And so far I haven’t got a plan, I’m set adrift upon these troubled waters’ is a beautiful refrain and one that frames the bulk of the song, letting it evolve into something far louder before joining in and making it seem almost transcendent. Beautiful, heartwrenching stuff.

The Active Set – Sea Legs (YSI)