Taking into consideration that the Morning Benders' first album, 2008's Talking Through Tin Cans, was largely a generic indie pop affair, it's startling just how good their second album is. Big Echoes ditches a lot of the Shins referencing and bland indie folk attempts in exchange for something that is far more rich and compelling for a number of reasons, one being that the Morning Benders take on an incredibly tired indie subgenre and give it their own spin. With very few exceptions, indie surf rock has rather run its course, and without even having been around for terribly long, it's become a damning aspect to a band's style. Not with the Morning Benders' latest, however; the sunshine pop and wishy washy guitar bits are used to tremendous effect, being woven into a bright, impressively full sound, which is undoubtedly partly the work of Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor, who handles production duties with head Morning Bender Chris Chu.
Like the best Beach Boys songs (a clear touchstone), the harmonization throughout Big Echoes is very well done. Their bright melodies soar wonderfully against the psychedelic backdrop, making for a warm, inviting feel that blurs the line between cheerful and melancholic. It's used very tastefully as well, dominating the hooks in the outstanding opener Excuses and Wet Cement, while creeping into choruses and bridges on songs like Promises and the initially sparse Cold War (Nice Clean Fight). A lot of it just overwhelms with its prettiness; Stitches is absolutely gorgeous, with a dream pop haziness to it that resembles Beach House to an extent, and the closing, echo heavy Sleepin' In has a sort of plod to it that is easy to follow on account of its smooth melody, vocals, and atmosphere.
The only real issue with Big Echoes is the lack of variation on their sound. Big Echoes does have a great sound, to be sure, but it loses its impact soon after the halfway mark on account of the ability most songs have (a notable exclusion being All Day Day Light) to blend together. As a result, Big Echoes comes across as more a collection of really good songs than a solid album. A massive progression has been made from their debut, but a bit more diversity would've really made this album stand out. Being that as it may, however, the weaker tracks aren't really weak per se, as they can all still stand on their own quite well. It's the album's monotony that brings them down, not their own level of quality. And besides, for only a sophomore effort, Big Echoes has got a huge sound with impressive style to boot, redundancy or no.
The Morning Benders have shown tremendous growth, and under Taylor's guidance they have filled out their sound considerably, stepping out of the shadows of their influences and striking out with something that is their own. The band has a ways to go before they reach their true potential, but Big Echoes is a pleasant listen all the same, boasting some extremely strong songs, and hints at a band with a great future.