the morning benders big echo
  • MONDAY, MARCH 22, 2010

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It is hard to talk about The Morning Benders without reaching for their roots in the sunshine state. Their music seems drenched in the mostly care-free, sun-soaked Pacific coast; an aesthetic combining both a ludicrous life of luxury (miles of beach) and the spirit of American exploration (historically speaking). If bearded, guitar-driven Americana sits in the Grain Belt, on a cold day in Wisconsin, it wishes it could be the smooth scrapes of the Beach Boys sand-and-surf sound. Us cynics in New York can only cower in our Brooklyn wind-tunnels and whimper about Governators. But there is no denying that the west-coast American sound has a strong appeal, especially in a music market saturated with art-pop that leans towards drug-induced freakouts... sometimes we just want to kick back with a margarita. Talking Through Tin Cans certainly felt like California, but with Grizzly Bear (the quintessential New York snooty art band) member Chris Taylor co-producing the new record, there is just enough grit on the windshield to have Big Echo resonating all over the country. Basically, they are the new American heroes (in my book, anyway).

The songs have always been solid, and that hasn't changed on Big Echo. From the fantastic harmonies that drive "Promises" and "Excuses" to the hook of "Cold War (Nice Clean Fight)", it is clear that the Benders create a world to dig into with both hands. No surprises at first, the band plays up it's signature lawn-chair licks, and it all goes down oh-so easy. "I made an excuse/and you found another way to tell the truth/I put no one else above us/we'll still be best friends when all turns to dust" sounds more like a love song than a pity party. Cut to the swelling orchestral bits, the bridge saturated with hints of chaos, and suddenly the sunny skies seem to rain a bit on our faces (only for a second). This is the key to the success, the icing on the cake: The Morning Benders found a way to make sun-drenched pop ominous in the least obvious way possible.

Part of it could be the drops of East Coast ennui. The subtle hints of ambient noise on the slower cuts (like "Pleasure Sigh"), the dirty filters flopped onto California riffs, give the entire record a hint of minor foreboding often absent on the straightforward surf songs. You could chalk that up to the Benders hailing from Berkeley; a place off the San Francisco bay often associated with more cerebral pursuits (not to mention neighboring Oakland, a tough spot). It's all speculative, really, they might not even go outside. But one thing is for sure: they are nailing it, whatever it happens to be.

Many will cite Chris Taylor as a resonant force for their development and I'd agree but only to a point. Those who claim a similarity to Grizzly Bear may not be listening closely enough. While GB spins on it's own avant-axis, The Morning Benders seem a bit more modest. They are deeply rooted in the traditions of Beach Boys harmonies, and use them quite frequently, despite the fuzz that clouds most of the record. And most of all, beneath the production, The Morning Benders still write a mean pop song. Now they just need to get off on the beach and into America's stereo. You listen to Big Echo and try to tell me Vampire Weekend deserves the Wheaties box over these guys. -joe puglisi

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MP3:"Promises" - Big Echo
The Morning Benders on Myspace

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