By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
Critics were quick to point out antecedents—from the Beatles to the Brill Building—when the starry-eyed pop of the Morning Benders’ Talking Through Tin Cans hit the national scene last year. They shouldn’t have gone to the trouble; the Bay Area band showed their hand quite readily with the free digital album The Bedroom Covers, paying homage to girl groups and other golden oldies (Roy Orbison, the Ronettes, the Crystals) as well as more indie-familiar flavors (Talking Heads, the Smiths, Velvet Underground).
How, then, do a band hone such decade-spanning influences to just 11 tracks?
“We get asked that a lot,” says front man Chris Chu. “To be honest, there wasn’t much deliberation going into it. It was just songs we took a liking to and played around the house.”
Thus the title. And since doing a cover is like walking around in another songwriter’s shoes, it’s expected that doing a whole record of covers might illuminate some tricks of the trade. But Chu thinks it’s more nebulous than that.
“It’s really hard to say what those songs did in particular,” he explains, “because everything you ever listen to affects you in some way.”
Like The Bedroom Covers, the all-original Talking Through Tin Cans has a reverent retro quality to it. The swagger and whimsy of prime ’60s rock and pop is enmeshed in the immaculate tunefulness and free-flowing wordiness of ’70s songwriters, topped with some crunchy American indie and snotty Brit-pop influences. Most of the songs manage to feel both assured and modest, and the best selection, “Waiting for a War,” resembles the Material Issue classic “Valerie Loves Me” before bopping like a twee take on Spoon. No wonder it became their first 7-inch single.
Still very new to the game, the Morning Benders first came to most folk’s attention in 2007, when they self-released a pair of homemade EPs in anticipation of an album. They started young: The band’s formative shows were booked when the members weren’t yet old enough to be allowed as customers into the bars they were playing. (The four—Chu, guitarist/organist Joe Ferrell, bassist Timothy Or and drummer Julian Harmon—are now between the ages 20 and 23, according to Chu.)
“When you’re playing bars [underage],” he observes, “it’s impossible to not be treated differently, especially when they won’t even let you in the club. You have to stand outside and go in really fast and play and get out of there.” Not surprisingly, he adds, “We usually like all-ages shows because it’s a better vibe for everyone involved. [Bars are] just not the most conducive atmosphere for getting into the music. Kids are not as self-conscious, and they have fun with it, and I think that’s contagious.”
The irony behind teenagers rocking out to the Morning Benders—which they won’t be doing at Friday’s show at the 21-and-over Detroit Bar—is, of course, that the band’s key influences are rooted 40 years in the past.
“We went into it with a very specific aesthetic in mind,” Chu says of Tin Cans, which was recorded when the front man was 20. “We were listening exclusively to music between the ’60s and ’70s: the Beatles, Neil Young, Dylan and [the] Stones. It definitely put us in the mindset to make something eligible to be accepted in that realm.”
That won’t be the case for their freshly recorded follow-up. “The approach was open-minded,” Chu says. “We let varying things just guide the songs. If we had cool instruments available, we put them on and saw what happened. We let [songs] breathe and grow more. For me, it’s much more special and unique record than the last one.”
A hint of their new direction can be heard on their MySpace page, which features “Back and Again” and “I Wanna Be Like You” from the band’s exclusive iTunes EP. Chu calls it “the missing link” between the two albums, whereas fans might see it as one more piece to add to the collection, alongside Tin Cans, The Bedroom Covers, and sessions for the popular sites Daytrotter and Limewire. As the latter indicates, the Morning Benders have made wise use of the Internet. And their record label, +1, is the offshoot of a well-liked PR company, which points to the young band’s knack for navigating a fluctuating music industry. For their part, Chu says the band are pleased with +1.
“We have a lot of music we want to put out,” he notes, “and they’ve never said no to us.”
Good thing; that means the wellspring of fresh new Morning Benders tunes isn’t likely to taper off any time soon.
The Morning Benders and the Submarines at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-?0600; www.detroitbar.com. Fri., 8 p.m. $10. 21+.