Reviewed by Brett Thorne.
The band’s full-length debut, Talking Through Tin Cans, was received with the kind of warmth usually reserved for new Radiohead albums in Pitchfork’s review section. iTunes named it the best Indie/Alternative album of 2008 and bands like Death Cab For Cutie, Grizzly Bear and Ra Ra Riot have brought these Brooklyn-by-way-of-San Francisco boys on the road for support.
It was during a 2008 show with Ra Ra Riot, at Austin’s venerable venue The Parish, that a new hater was born (namely, me). The band took the stage after Walter Meego put on the kind of performance that makes you reevaluate your life choices and consider giving up music completely.
Singer Christopher Chu probably walked up to the microphone and introduced his band. There was probably some clever pre-song banter. I really don’t remember. The band’s set is a blur. Not only did the Benders’ music come off as bland, but apparently their instruments were all stuck on the highest possible treble setting which was hell for anyone standing within 20 feet of an amplifier. The effect was comparable to having an electric screwdriver forced in your ear. I was left dazed and barely conscious when it came time to ogle Ra Ra Riot’s cellist, Alexandra Lawn.
My friends didn’t share my loathing. In fact, it seemed like The Morning Benders were the only band they listened to for months after the show. I remained unconvinced. So, when I saw the new Morning Benders album in my inbox, the sky thundered, the ground shook and my ears started bleeding again.
Then I listened to the album.
“Excuses,” a dreamy little waltz, begins with the sounds of a needle being placed against a record. Swelling violins give way to acoustic guitars and lots of percussion as Chu belts out “the bones are too heavy to come up, squished into a single cell of wood.” Chu is swinging for the fence on this one. I don’t know why the bones are so heavy or how they got squished into a single cell of wood, but the way Chu sings it, I’m convinced these bones are the most important thing in the world. Did I really think these guys were bland? The whole song devolves into a simple “da dum, da dum, da dum” before crescendoing back into one final chorus of gypsy-esque percussion, violin, acoustic guitar and Chu’s crooning.
“Promises,” the second song on the album, is drenched in reverb and is without a doubt one of the hippest songs I have heard in a long time. I don’t mean hip hip. I mean this song has swagger. Chu is doing his best Coconut Records impersonation as he lazily sing/speaks over reverb-drenched guitars and a drum beat that holds the sparse arrangement together. The world hasn’t experienced this kind of cool since early Strokes material.
“Cold War (Nice Clean Fight)” is one of the stand-out tracks of the album and has an infectious chorus that wouldn’t sound out of place on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. In fact, this album is full of memorable choruses and hooks that would sound as good in a smoky SoHo bar as they would being blasted while driving down Pacific Coast Highway.
In addition to the band’s songwriting prowess, Chris Taylor’s production also stands out on Big Echo. The whole album utilizes reverb and swelling instruments, which can get tiresome but ultimately makes the album sound much bigger and more grandiose than the band’s previous efforts. It would be interesting to hear how well the boys pull of live performances of these songs.
Big Echo is a big album. Not only is the sound of it huge but The Morning Benders have a lot riding on it. The first record for a new label can be intimidating enough, but add to it the pressure of living up to a well-received debut album and you have a recipe for a failure on the same level as The Darkness. If you’re trying to remember who The Darkness were, let me say… exactly. This album is not One Way Ticket To Hell… And Back, though. Big Echo is one of the most fun albums of the year and delivers on the high expectations this band faces. It was enough to convert this hater.
Red River rating: 8 out of 10