March 11, 2010

I Got Bent This Morning

No, I'm not Irishing up my coffee... yet... I just checked out the new release from the Morning Benders, Big Echo which dropped in stores on Tuesday (Can I still say that? Is that too Casey Kasem?). Until today, the band has successfully flown under my radar despite a five year history, two full-length albums, a series of EP's, and shared bills with indie-heavy hitters such as MGMT, Yo La Tengo, Grizzly Bear, and Death Cab. None of that really registered. What caught my eye was a sold out show at the Black Cat on a Thursday night for which I had no context. I like context. I crave context. So as I cranked through my morning at work, I pulled up the album via the band's personal blog (listen here: AMBenders).

Initially, I was underwhelmed as the vibe on the opening track, 'Excuses', isn't exactly unique. In fact, its opening is a fairly cookie-cutter indie sound with fake strings overlaying a simple rhythmic acoustic guitar strum pattern. But I listened on, and the band soon revealed its depth as the vocals swelled and countermelodies weaved in and out of the tune. I found my head easily bopping along to this indie-pop song, more reminiscent of the 1950's doo-wop than of current mainstream or underground scenes. I even learned to like the sampled string section.

Soon I found myself halfway through the album, cruising along, totally immersed in the layered vocals of frontman Chris Chu. While the influence of Grizzly Bear-bassist-turned-producer Chris Taylor is obvious, the diversity of influences is equally obvious. I could build a long and descriptive set of hyphenated music genres to better describe them (i.e., neo-indie-synth-pop), but I abhor that sort of pseudo-typecasting. So instead I'll comment that I love the diversity of sounds on the album; it reminds me of the kind of heterogeneity Animal Collective achieves but with more acoustic instruments and less digital manipulation. The easy groove of 'Wet Cement'; the simple, yet crazy catchy 'Cold War' (I dare you listen and not head bob); the poly-rhythmic island jam 'Hand Me Downs'; the beautiful harmonies on 'Sleeping In'; well, clearly there are many tracks worth perusing. Have you pulled it up yet? Are you with me?

So now that I've established that this album is good, the next task it to determine how it compares to what they've been doing. I pulled up their debut LP, Talking Through Tin Cans just to get a baseline from which to make the call. While equally fun and easy to listen to, the album lacks the same gravitas as Echo. Its clear that the group has benefited from a little extra attention and studio time.

In conclusion, listen to this album. If you were ahead of the curve and got a ticket to tonight's show at the Black Cat, you are the focus of my envy. If not, you can catch them up in NYC in April, or like me, wait around until they come back next year. Sigh...

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