There's never been a shortage of pop bands taking to the beach for fun and inspiration, and Berkeley, Calif.'s Morning Benders are following in the right footsteps.
The band's debut, Talking Through Tin Cans (+1 Records), drew on the sunny 1960s of the Beach Boys, while Big Echo, the band's first record for Rough Trade, looks to the indie pop of the Elephant 6 bands.
Frontman Christopher Chu's songs are poppy at the forefront, with a focus on tight harmonies and rhythmic guitar strumming, mixed with a hazy collage of sound.
The album opens with the echo and jangle of "Excuses" and the spacey swirl of "Promises." Then the album slows dramatically, and what had appeared to be a head-rush of bright, catchy pop takes a more nuanced twist. It's a welcome shift on the down-tempo "Wet Cement" and the frantic "All Day Day Light"—but it's easy to wonder what Big Echo would have been if the Morning Benders had kept pushing the throttle.
Produced by Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear, Big Echo sounds clean and careful, but needlessly elaborate, too often suggesting a cross-pollination of the Morning Benders and Grizzly Bear. Taylor is adept at handling the wall of haze that gives Big Echo its density, but in doing so, he chips away at the lo-fi excitement.
Big Echo is certainly ambitious (perhaps too much so), and when the Morning Benders connect, it can be thrilling. But relying so much on the studio doesn't serve the band's strengths.