First single, “Excuses,” uses a 60’s a.m. “Wall of Sound” recording technique (see Phil Spector) to arouse a swooningly theatrical and climatic wistfulness. It’s picturesque: the setting would be a boardwalk under overcast coastal spring, just enough morning sea breeze that anybody’d feel good that they’d opted for long-sleeves, however thin the material (thin enough to make the body stiffen up and feel naked). If there’s a character, she has frizzy curls, and she’s being filmed—damp with sentiment and bleachy 70’s film grain. But then there’s also something 50’s about the scene; maybe it’s the slow sweeping of the half steps (it doesn’t matter, at this point, whether we’re talking about the girl’s movement, or the melody’s). I’m poking out eras like quarters at a checker-tiled milkshake stand. Oh, or it could surely be that doo-wop that you got in the mood for last year with Veckatimest.
Actually, that’s not the only thing that this sophomore record tastefully borrows from tour-mates, Grizzly Bear. First off, Benders got the Bear’s art-pop sage, Chris Taylor, to produce—and mentor, I might add. The piano chords on “Excuses” jingle like they did in Grizzly’s last-year favorite, “Two Weeks.” The second track of Big Echo reinterprets a guitar rhythm from “While You Wait For the Others.” There are interjects of energetic bounces and percussive breaks scattered (ex. vinyl air in “Excuses,” two-note roll in “Promises,” some textural stuff in “Mason Jar” and “Wet Cement”)—they’re all characteristic of Taylor and his idiosyncratic instrument machines.
As a record—yes, listen to it all together—it’s also intricate and intentional like you’d expect anything in the same area as a Grizzly man.
But for all their “smart music” similarities, Big Echo finds its own place. It’s not as architectural as Yellow House, nor reclusively quiet as Veckatimest. No, it’s much more open-aired, loudly sung to seas and echoed into skies. Try the groups side-by-side: Jon Chu’s vocal quality (Benders) is youthfully blunt where the Brooklyners are meditative, reserved. A lot of that’s in the recording—Echo needs, much more, the energy for songs like “Cold War,” and “All Day Daylight.” I’d use the former as a categorical foreground; I’m feeling a brisk wind of twee in this wee-fast, horn-driven two minutes. Than it floats higher, to new harmonic heights on track eight. There’s a quirky gale at the end, a whirlwind of instruments. It takes up a lot of space.
These tracks are very well-spaced between the slower moving ones though. The first two tracks are animate and communal, but half-sunk third track, “Wet Cement,” will have you settling in. The air’s cleared a bit, it’s afternoon, and it’s bumping along with a pleasantly simple bass. But there’s plenty of cinematic precision here, too. The five-song slew of slow rewards careful listening. Most of them feature release—although, if I were to make any criticism of the album, it would be that some of these songs blow out too much at the end. “Hand Me Downs” has an especially jarring vortex at its conclusion (but maybe appropriate for this brilliantly edgy “other”).
Last song, “Sleeping In,” is the gentle ending I wanted. It’s contemplative, it’s turning its head back, and then pressing forward to some new place.
Well, that’s if you want to leave so soon. I’ll be returning to the fresh spring of “Excuses.” I know, I know, you’re saying it hasn’t come yet (and neither has that woman). But when it does, I’m under the impression we’ll all be breathing deeply of it.