'Talking Through Tin Cans'
The Morning Benders make music their own way
By Bliss 05/15/2008
The DIY route has never been easy, but rising gas prices and a stumbling economy are making it harder and harder for indie artists battling exclusive commercial radio playlists and trying to tour.
Then again, when you’ve already chosen to gamble away security by living your dreams, what more have you got to lose?
That’s a familiar topic to the Morning Benders. The Bay Area-based indie-rock quartet, who played a release party at the Echo last week for their very fine new CD “Talking Through Tin Cans,” have been operating outside industry-mandated rules of the game since their inception. So far, they seem to be winning.
Santa Monica-raised bandleader/vocalist/guitarist Chris Chu has been quite candid about his childhood immersion in 1960s and ’70s pop, courtesy of his parents’ Beatles and Beach Boys records, and how those melodic sounds and thoughtful album sequencing have thoroughly influenced his own approach to music making. The sample-heavy constructions of many contemporary pop releases feel like coldly impersonal mosaics in comparison.
It’s small surprise that “Talking Through Tin Cans” feels like an informal balancing act between snappy pop-rockers, clearly created in the shadow of those early influences, and moodier midtempo numbers. Kinda like the flip sides of an old-school vinyl album. It isn’t a sharp-edged split — for all its hushed intensity and squeaking acoustic guitar strings, “Wasted Time” from the album’s second half would fit comfortably alongside the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” — but there’s an unmistakable de-escalation from the jangly opener “Damnit Anna” through to the faux jauntiness of “Waiting for a War,” the weary regret of “Heavy Hearts” and the acoustic atmospherics of the closing “When We’re Apart” and bonus track “Worth the Fight.”
But when it comes to marketing and business, Chu and his fellow Benders — guitarist and sometime keyboardist Joe Ferrell, drummer Julian Harmon and bassist Tim Or — are strictly 21st century. They’ve made savvy use of the blogosphere over the past two years, taking care to slip advance MP3s to online tastemakers like Idolator, Indie Surfer, My Old Kentucky Blog, Pitchfork and Stereogum even before they had a proper full-length recorded or released. That combination of proper pop composition and damn-the-format cheek feels refreshingly hopeful.
The Morning Benders have since ascended to the coveted hipper-than-thou indie-rock echelons as openers for Yo La Tengo, the Long Winters, Two Gallants, Vetiver and the Kooks, with whom they’re currently doing a cross-country tour. In fact, we were planning to recommend seeing them open for the Kooks at the Wiltern next Monday — but it turns out we’re not the only Morning Benders believers, ’cause the show is sold out, as are most of their other shows between here and Manhattan. Better luck next time. ’Til then, console yourself with “Tin Cans.” www.themorningbenders.com, www.myspace.com/themorningbenders.