The Morning Benders’ second LP, Big Echo, is a record of carefully crafted and expertly produced chamber pop, taking clear cues from producer Chris Taylor’s own band, Grizzly Bear, as well as frontman Christopher Chu’s childhood obsessions with Beach Boys and The Beatles. Following the Berkley, California four-piece’s more lo-fi 2008 debut, Talking Through Tin Cans, their sophomore record is also their Rough Trade debut; it’s a more ambitious, symphonic pop endeavor with wider appeal.
The first track, ‘Excuses,’ is undeniably the highlight of the album, with sticky melodies, a wordless sing-a-long “ba-da-da” chorus, and a brilliantly layered (also wordless) acapella breakdown towards the end. The second track, ‘Promises,’ is equally memorable, boasting a thumping bass-line and teen-anthem chorus: “I can’t, help thinking, we grew up too fast,” will be stuck in your head for hours.
It would be easy to possess all ten tracks that make up Big Echo without ever really getting past these first two gems. In comparison, the rest of the record is way more subtle, less melodic, and unfortunately for some listeners will seem way less interesting.
But for fans of a slightly more experimental breed of baroque pop, these last eight carefully-orchestrated tracks might feel like some of the strongest that Big Echo has to offer: they sometimes feel like a cohesive ebb and flow of reverberating guitars and drum breakdowns, bells, organs, and epic layers of vocal harmony. (Particularly on ‘Pleasure Sighs,’ ‘Hand Me Downs,’ and ‘Mason Jars.’) It feels like a beautifully drawn out pop crescendo, but perhaps the build up should have exploded into the more melodic, stand-out tracks, instead of lagging behind.