If it's a pleasantly summery sound you're after while the sun beats down–best not get too used to it, eh?–then you could do a lot worse than seek out the second album from Californian quartet The Morning Benders. Splicing Beach Boys harmonies with the indie-folk mutterings of Grizzly Bear–imagine the New Yorkers had recorded Veckatimest on the west, rather than the east, coast–Big Echo is an immediate, inviting listen. It's not breaking any boundaries of inspired expression, but for what it is it's a fine set indeed.
The record starts wonderfully, the strings of Excuses swelling like shore-kissing waves ripe for riding. From here the band coasts to solid ground, Promises rather more steady of footing and stirring thoughts of the gently rocking likes of Band of Horses and Midlake, assuming the members of both had replaced their naval-gazing introspective tendencies for a sound rather more bubbly and boisterous. That's not to say there isn't a tenderness on display, especially when frontman Chris Chu lets lyrically loose about regretting growing up too fast–but unlike the indie-folk luminaries of the contemporary landscape, The Morning Benders aren't getting lost in melancholy. Theirs is an outlook largely of optimism, and it's well suited to accessible arrangements that waste little time in establishing their direction.
When the record slows–as on the sublime Pleasure Sighs and Stitches–the Grizzly Bear parallel is at its most apparent. The connection goes behind the scenes, too–Grizzly Bear bassist Chris Taylor produces. The Morning Benders' ability to shuffle their stylistic pack is well accomplished, though, as at times they recall the easy-going rock-outs of Weezer as heard through a Vampire Weekend filter–the brief but bouncy Cold War is a case in point. But despite the inherent accessibility exhibited throughout Big Echo, the album doesn't linger long in the memory; there are intermittent moments of true sing-along potential, but the overall feeling is that this band is still a work in progress, and that their best material will arrive in another album's time. It's strange given the hefty hooks within this collection, but the instant-hits don't translate into long-term stereo fixtures.
Perhaps the marketplace is too crowded at present for Big Echo to shine as widely as it could. Perhaps these songs simply lack the legs to go the distance, despite a prettiness that should be of mass appeal. Whatever the reason, The Morning Benders aren't quite there yet. But they're firmly in control of where it is they want to go, so fireworks next time around shouldn't be ruled out.
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