Album Review: the morning benders - Big Echo

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4 May 2010, 19:15

originally posted on http://www.audiocandyradio.com

Artist: the morning benders

Title: Big Echo

Label: Rough Trade

Release Date: March 9

Is it too early to call San Francisco’s the morning benders (who stubbornly insist on keeping the band’s name lowercased) the indie-music-blog darlings of 2010? In February, the band’s video of a live, wall-of-sound recording of the gorgeous “Excuses” hit the Web and immediately sent Christopher Chu et al. soaring into the blog stratosphere.

And for good reason. “Excuses,” which opens “Big Echo,” is a sprawling, five-minute epic full of strings, acoustic strums, and Chu’s yearning vocals. Chu has said the song is about trying to reconcile falling in love for the very first time while trying to picture yourself with someone forever. He nails it on the head here, while crooning lines crafted to make the girls swoon: “We are so smooth now/Our edges are beaten driftwood whittled down/Old bodies slip when they make love/We’ll mine our sparks to shoot us above.”

If there’s one flaw with this record, it’s that it peaks too early with this song. I had a hard time moving beyond “Excuses” my first few times through “Big Echo.” And it’s not for lack of quality music on the rest of the album – there are plenty of gorgeous, sweeping songs to be had here. But with a song this majestic, this good, the morning benders may have been better served to save it for later.

But upon repeat listens, “Big Echo” continues to churn out pleasure for the ears. There’s that killer bass line on lead single “Promises,” which sounds like it was ripped straight from Grizzly Bear’s “Veckatimest.” (Perhaps we can look to Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor’s production of “Big Echo” as the source for that inspiration.) There’s the quiet, floating calm of “Wet Cement,” the morning benders’ take on a dream pop love song that returns to the theme of falling in love and growing old. (In it, we move from the opening lyrics of “We met one day in the wet cement,” to “Now the cement’s hardened in my chest.”)

Chris Taylor’s beautiful production is evident throughout “Big Echo.” The liner notes thank Grizzly Bear, and it’s no wonder. “Big Echo” really does feel like a close relative of “Veckatimest.” We’ve got haunting harmonies (“Stitches”) and sunshine-y pop (“All Day Daylight”) and the entire thing is sonically deep (listen to this record on vinyl and try to tell me you don’t notice something new each time.).

I’m not saying that “Big Echo” is essentially “Veckatimest: Redux.” While the two albums have their similarities, “Big Echo” stands tall on its own merits. This is an unexpected record from an unexpected band. (Give their debut, “Talking Through Tin Cans,” a shot and I promise you’ll be shocked at how quickly these guys have matured.)

For one, there’s that deeply-embedded theme about love and maturity and growing old, leaving old pleasures behind, and Chu’s soothing croon embodies it perfectly. “I can’t help but thinking we grew up too fast,” he screams on “Promises.” He continues: “But I know, I know it just won’t last.”

Maybe it will last for the morning benders. The buzz, the sold-out shows, the sonic beauty. I can honestly say that right now, in late April, this is my record of 2010 so far. Yes, it’s early. Far too early to even think about saying it’ll come out on top once all is said and done for the rest of this year. But I can say this: this is an absolutely stunning record, worth the purchase for the opening track alone, that other bands will be hard pressed to pass. Watch out, Grizzly Bear, Chris Chu may be producing you next time around.

Score: 9.3/10

The Morning Benders
Excuses
Promises
Wet Cement
Cold War
Pleasure Sighs
Hand Me Downs
Mason Jar
All Day Day Light
Stitches
Sleeping In
Big Echo

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