The Morning Benders - Loose Change

Did I miss something? Is it 1966 again? I hope so, because I’m in California and that would mean surf movies, those classic cars with wood paneling on the sides, Epiphone 335 guitars that actually sound good, and that innocence heard in music before we all became jaded and pissed at our government, scoffing at the American dream. Well, somehow The Morning Benders have stayed pure, untainted by the scum that infects a good deal of our current music. Maybe they don’t own a television or maybe they skip the world news section in their daily newspaper reading.

Whatever the case, Loose Change is a breath of fresh California air. This seven song EP, recorded in the group's hometown of Berkeley with one bare-bones microphone and a small laptop computer setup, is an amazing accomplishment for just a year-old band. The songs were recorded as demos and odds and ends, hence the name, Loose Change. These are simply great songs pooled together to form a simple, yet fantastic record. The album doesn’t boast fancy production, synths, or techno beats, and there are moments where you can hear singer Chris Chu’s vocals bouncing off of the house’s bare walls. Yet it’s this completely charming low-fi recording, full of dynamic organic sounds, that makes the album so pleasing to the ear.

Written beautifully in a 60’s California-pop style similar to The Beach Boys, each track boasts shimmering vocals, driving vintage drums, and complex vocal harmonies. But that’s just the surface of Loose Change. Though TMB have channeled New York-style rapid phrasing (most universally identified via The Strokes), they have still managed to find their own voice. Loose Change is mostly a fun and lighthearted listen, with songs urging you to not take them too seriously and pining for a, to quote track two, “fancy and free” life, but there are also moments of sincere heartache and introspection.

If The Morning Benders sound was compared strictly to The Beach Boys cannon, I'd have to say that Loose Change sounds most similar to the rough-around-the-edges but inspired classic, Smiley Smile. Though a commercial failure at the time, in hindsight, Smiley Smile is considered by many as one of the Beach Boys' most unique works. A raw, eerie psychedelic glimpse into the darker recesses of Brian Wilson's brain, the album was decades later exemplified by the more polished re-mastered original work, Smile. Though Loose Change is strictly a home-grown recording, my guess is that TMB also have some pristine production talent in their blood. Their next steps perhaps will work in what I like to call RBBCO, that is “Reverse Beach Boys Chronological Order,” to produce their wall of sound, Pet Sounds-esqe sonic masterpiece. Hopefully, we won't have to wait three decades.

Though each track on Loose Change is of stellar quality, the song “Grain of Salt” has received the most praise and attention, and it is deserving of the hype. It’s a jolly jaunt through classic Californian pop-lore, with a driving beat that would have any mop-topped surfboard-hauling youth sporting dark shades, coastline-cruising in their classic “woody” car, tapping every available finger and body part on steering wheels, doors, and mirrors. The first line of the song, “Take my heart with a grain of salt, it’s been broken but it’s nobody’s fault,” perfectly sets the pace of the EP (and perhaps the records to follow). The pumped-up vocals soar on the line, “Now I have to go back to that place I know best / But I’m happy this time, I know that, this love is mine,” over an innocent, almost tongue-in-cheek bed of retro “yeah, yeah, yeah’s.” (Minus the Karen O’s.)

Loose Change ends with the song, “Morning Fog,” a sweet lullaby with a loose and steadily strummed acoustic guitar and soft bass accompaniment. Chu wistfully sings, “My old friend, where have you gone / hopped on the bus in the morning fog. Don’t be gone too long / I’ll stay near the phone / ‘til I hear the steps bringing you back home / now that I’m alone / I can finally say / the words that wouldn’t come any other way.” A beautiful slide guitar moves through the bridge, and the song ends with a gorgeous, perfectly-timed fade out.

So just how did this young group of Golden State virtuosos maintain their artistic purity on Loose Change? Was it a conscious rejection of pop media junk, or just their way? However they did it, thank God for The Morning Benders for providing a new soundtrack to some hot summer days and articulating all that is vital in young life in California.

--Part Swedish Chris

Release Date: September 18, 2006

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