Review : The Morning Benders - Big Echo
PitchforkAlbum titles can often sum up the albums themselves. Case in point: the Morning Benders' 2008 debut, Talking Through Tin Cans, a collection of boilerplate indie rock that borrowed more than a bit from the Shins' jangle pop. Despite a few bright spots, the record branded the San Franciscan outfit with a second-tier reputation. Add that to the fact that the Shins aren't groundbreakers themselves, and Talking Through Tin Cans begins to sound as limited as the rudimentary children's activity suggested in its title.
The title to the Benders' sophomore effort and Rough Trade debut, Big Echo, appropriately evokes their sonic shift in the past two years. The album is a homecoming of sorts, as it finds the Morning Benders correcting their PacNW indie pop identity crisis in favor of a more coastal, kaleidoscopic California haze. It also finds them embracing the cavernous experimental rock sound of Grizzly Bear, whose Chris Taylor shares a co-production credit with Benders singer/guitarist Christopher Chu....full text
DustedmagazineFor those internet rough riders out there, your first exposure to the Morning Benders was probably a live in-studio cut with the self-described Echo Chamber Orchestra. Head bender Christopher Chu explains the advance arrangement’s extra personnel for the pre-ordained triumphal anthem "Excuses" by going into his appreciation for Phil Spector and his wall of sound recording techniques. “He would just pile fifty people into the studio and just blow it out,” goes the introduction. “I thought it would be really cool to do that with our friends.” The result is certainly big: a kitchen cabinet session with the likes of Christopher Owens and John Vanderslice kicking around, while Chu conducts the highs and lows that swirl around him. It’s an exercise in geocentrism. With all the new meddling, "Excuses" takes on a life of its own that far surpasses the album version that opens up Big Echo.
It’s also a pretty disingenuous display. A malapropism at best, a needless namecheck at worst. There’s nothing all that Spector-ish about the sound. Sure, there’s lots of people, lots of instruments, but there’s no raw, overbearing force behind any of it. It’s all very carefully orchestrated. Nothing blows out at all. It all goes according to plan. Chu not only conducts the song, but the pseudo-event that he is constructing around him. “The celebration is held, photographs are taken, the occasion is widely reported,” goes Daniel Boorstin’s description of such happenings. And the occasion for the convening of the Echo Chamber Orchestra lines up pretty easily with this definition. Chu ably manufactures a visual and personal experience to match up perfectly with the manufactured sentiment of the song. Another aspirant to what Chris Weingarten so derisively referred to recently as "this whole ‘indie rock artist as IMPORTANT composer’ thing...Snake fuckin oil."
Harsh, but not without merit. Big Echo tries so hard for transcendence, it never gets out of the weeds. Anyone making the argument that pop music isn’t constructed or manipulative is a fool, but we tend to like a little wool over the eyes. No one wants their manipulation laid bare for all to see. Dancing around that nebulous concept of authenticity is ultimately what we’re talking about here, and the Morning Benders falter. Hard....full text
HearyaRemember that line in As Good As It Gets when Nicholson’s character used one of the greatest panty-dropper lines of all time, “You make me want to be better man.” The Big Echo makes me want to become a better reviewer of music. The Morning Benders shine a bright light on my shortcomings as I struggle for words to describe the brilliance of Big Echo. I saw them perform for us in a HearYa Live Session. I watched them perform at our SxSW party in 2009. I listened (and loved) their previous album, Talking Through Tin Cans. At no point could I have imagined that The Morning Benders were capable of an album of this magnitude. Big Echo is an ambitious album with flawless execution.
We posted the video for “Excuses” when it was released and I was slackjawed. Talk about trying to drive the green in one stroke. Lead Singer, Chris Chu, pulled the big stick out of his bag and knocked that shit long, straight, and right on the green. The LP was produced with the help of Chris Taylor (Grizzly Bear) who apparently saw something special in the Bay Area quartet. I would have loved to hear Chu and Taylor’s conversations as they discussed the nuances and intricacies that made each song sound so sonically creative. At its core, Big Echo is a pop record. It’s also a statement album by a band that will be on everybody’s top of 2010 lists....full text
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