Album titles rarely get more nuanced than Big Echo. The name of The Morning Benders’ sophomore LP, issued in March on Rough Trade, works on a handful of levels. First, there’s its most fundamental appeal: It’s a simple but striking turn of phrase. Then, it nods to how the Benders’ indie pop now benefits from production values that are significantly souped-up compared to Talking Through Tin Cans, their humble debut. That growth is evident in the “big echo” of their current sound’s reverb and depth. After that comes the most intriguing dimension: Big Echo refers to the record’s thematic angle, as it’s all one massive reflection of the past.
Chris Chu, The Benders’ leader, elaborates.
“I was hoping that when you think about Big Echo, it sounds like the album,” says the guitarist and singer blessed with a golden, tender voice. “You have all these different sounds echoing together and making this big, lush, formless sound, but at the same time, it’s pulled from all these different experiences I’ve had that are echoing around my head. The feeling it creates is now an echo of those memories.”
In multiple interviews since Big Echo’s release, Chu has emphasized that a sense of nostalgia haunts the album. The Benders’ harmony-laden, inoffensive work has always owed a great debt to artists representative of long-gone decades— notably, The Beatles, Beach Boys and Neil Young—and the new inspirations are even more apparent. “Excuses,” Big Echo’s opener and stand-out track, kicks off with the crackling fuzz of a needle meeting a record and soon evokes both desolate doo-wop and gleaming old-school pop. “There’s a feeling we were trying to evoke that would hopefully trigger the nostalgia we felt for music from the ’50s and ’60s—old Phil Spector kind of stuff,” Chu says. “There’s a musical nostalgia for a time we were never part of. There’s [been] a big resurgence of music from the ’50s and ’60s in my generation because it’s really the only way we have to experience that time because we weren’t around. A certain romanticism comes with that.”
No matter how many times Chu brings up the word, nostalgia’s connotations remain vague, and the frontman acknowledges that its ambiguity is why it’s spawned such a prominent thread. “It’s this weird kind of not-happy, not-sad feeling— this melancholy in-between that’s hard to pin down,” he says, noting that the band didn’t purposely craft an album around nostalgia, but the idea emerged once Big Echo was complete.
The Benders, a quartet that splits time between New York and California, creates songs that roam around in sleepy stupors and feel like they can bloom at any moment. “Sunny,” “optimistic” and “sweet” are a few of the adjectives that frequently pop up in discussions of the Benders, but those pleasant terms don’t tell the entire story. A murkiness runs beneath even their warmest compositions. The languid “Promises,” in one example, actually espouses pretty dreary sentiment: “This world is only getting smaller/ The choices aren’t ours to be made/ I’m into wasting my days/ I feel like wasting my days.”
“The people that I know that have spent a lot of time with the record realize that it is kind of a one-sided description, because there’s darkness in a lot of the songs,” says Chu of the myriad positive words. “The ambiguous feeling is essential to what we’re try to do on Big Echo. It’s not just happy and sweet, [but] melancholy and longing as well.”
With Big Echo so smitten with nostalgia, Chu hasn’t seriously considered whether or not The Morning Benders’ third album will be connected to the concept. “I know that [the next record] will be a lot different,” he says. “Nostalgia is obviously a vast emotion and there’s catalogs of material, so I’m not going to say it’s not going to be nostalgic. But if it is, it will be a different kind of nostalgia.”
THE MORNING BENDERS
w/ Twin Sister, Cults
The Urban Lounge
241 S. 500 East
Saturday, Oct. 23, 9 p.m.
$12 advance/$14 day of show
Fri., Aug. 1, 7:30 p.m. / free