Sound Choices

Alex Schaaf

I first became familiar with the morning benders – lowercase intentional – through a video they posted of themselves performing “Excuses,” the opening track off of their new album “Big Echo.”
The video was shot live in studio, as the band assembled a group of friends – including John Vanderslice and one of the guys from Girls – and tore through the retro-pop masterpiece with an overwhelming dose of positive energy.
Never before have I been so converted by a single video, but after watching the clip over and over at least ten times, I shook myself out of the haze I was in to go check out the rest of the new album.
Of course, it would be almost impossible for the rest of the album to live up to that first track. After listening more closely, I can say that it indeed fails to maintain that kind of momentum throughout the entire thing. But this is not necessarily a bad thing.
The feeling that comes from “Excuses” is a special one; it’s innocent, it’s warm and fuzzy and it’s sensual, as lead singer Christopher Chu sings “we are so smooth now” over a bed of strings, drums and strummed acoustic guitars.
The rest of the album is a little less innocent and a little more slick, but it had to be: Without this kind of diversity, the album would not be as listenable and interesting as it is.
“Big Echo” was mixed by Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear, and boy, can you tell. The sounds of Grizzly Bear are all over this album: the guitars, drums and bass all sound like they were borrowed from the yellow house down the block.
But the impressive thing about the morning benders here is that they manage to sound so much like Grizzly Bear, yet so different at the same time. Chu’s vocals do the most work to set the two groups apart, both in the timbre and style of his delivery and in the words he sings.
The morning benders are a decidedly young-sounding group, but one that is wise beyond their years: “I can’t help thinking we grew up too fast,” sings Chu on “Promises,” the second track and first single.
Throughout the rest of the album, the group manages to cover a wide diversity of styles, all under the general retro-pop umbrella that characterized the first track “Excuses.” Chu sounds like a completely different singer on songs like “Wet Cement,” with a slick, almost-whispered delivery, and “All Day Daylight,” which has more of an assured swagger.
Songs like “Pleasure Sighs” are great examples of the solid production and arrangement that went into “Big Echo,” as it starts with a quiet, barely there guitar and vocal melody that eventually becomes a fuzzed-out group chorus, reaching an impressive peak before falling back down into a laid-back groove to close out the song.
Overall this is a very impressive album, one that is being led by opening track “Excuses” but also features a solid back-end. Just when you think you’ve got the morning benders’ sound nailed-down, you hear a song like “Sleeping In” at the end of the album, which simultaneously sounds like nothing before it and like it fits in perfectly.
That’s a good way to describe the band in general: seemingly conventional on the surface, but once you dive in and notice all the intricacies and hidden treasures that rest below the surface, you’ll be hooked.