Morning Benders | Big Echo (Rough Trade)

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It’s nice to see that a band can play straight ahead indie rock and still find its individual voice.

As the days get longer and temperatures rise, it’s nice to know that we’ll have some good music for a hazy summer. Big Echo, the debut album from San Francisco’s the Morning Benders fills the bill handily. Released by indie mainstay Rough Trade, Big Echo produced by lead singer/guitarist Christopher Chu and Chris Taylor, bassist for Grizzly Bear and producer of its last two albums, as well as the Dirty Projectors’ Rise Above. The warmth and haze of those great albums is apparent here. The Morning Benders’ songs come through with a vibe that puts the listener instantly at ease, evoking a sunny 60s pop as seen through the gauze of nostalgia. Their sound is brought into the present, though, with reverb-drenched guitars and vocals that give many of the tracks an omnipresent haze, like a weed-fuzzed afternoon.

 The album’s first track—and one of its best—“Promises” begins with a needle being dropped on a record, clueing us in that we are about to hear something evocative of the past. Soon a tinkling, laid-back tropical beat begins accompanied by Christopher Chu’s lyrics of love. Soon everything but the hi-hat drops out to reveal a a three-part harmony of 50’s doo-wop “da-dums” which build into a set of Technicolor Hawaiian strings and a lilting outro.

Second track and first single “Promises” is more reticent about relationships. The chorus “I’ve seen what’s comin’ on / I can’t say it all will be fine/ I can’t help thinkin’ we grew up too fast /and I know that this won’t last a second longer than it has.” It does, however sport bouncy indie-pop guitar, skittering drums and an anthemic chorus that insure the listener doesn’t finish the song too depressed.

In fact, the band is generally at its best when it’s upbeat. “All Day Day Light” and “Cold War (Nice Clean Fight)” include some the snappiest pop this side of Phoenix, particularly “Nice Clean Fight,” which swings on  guitars, bells and hand claps resolving on a wash of clean harmonies, thoughat a minute and 44 seconds, it’s over far too quickly.

The Morning Benders’ other mode is a more spacious dreamy sound “Hand me downs” begins in electronic twinkling that moves into pounding toms and builds to prettlity distorted and reverbed guitars reminiscent of the Besnard Lakes, then falls suddenly back into electronic twinkling. 

“Pleasure Sighs,” “Mason Jar,” and closer “Sleeping In” feature Chu’s languid, pretty half-falsetto. At times they can fade into the background but mostly hold the listeners attention with a good sense of space and guitars so fuzzed-out they come close to shoegaze. 

Sometimes, as on “Wet Cement” the Morning Benders can seem a little mannered and drowsy, but for the most part, it’s nice to see that a band can play straight ahead indie rock and still find its individual voice. B+ | Kurt Klopmeier

RIYL: Phoenix, the Besnard Lakes

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