Talking Through Tin Cans presented the Morning Benders as sunny, strummy, lo-fi pop fanatics from the outskirts of San Francisco, but Big Echo is a different animal entirely. Released two years after the group’s debut, it’s an aural document of a band moving across the country, trading its California home for the urban enclaves of Brooklyn, switching labels, and replacing its ‘60s pop sound with something distinctly modern. There’s a lot of change at work here, but Big Echo’s biggest asset is its ability to navigate those changes without losing its footing.
Frontman Chris Chu is a fan -- a borderline disciple, even -- of iconic pop bands, and the Morning Benders are still anchored by his melodies, even if they’re now flanked by textured arrangements and an active backup band. While Talking Through Tin Cans was almost a Chu solo project, Big Echo relies fairly heavily on the whole group, with electric guitars replacing Tin Cans’ acoustics and dense, layered soundscapes reigning supreme throughout. Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor shares production duties with Chu, and the two brew up something majestic with tracks like “All Day Daylight,” a fizzy ode to summer, and “Excuses,” which opens the album with orchestral percussion and waltzing strings. Rarely do the piles of auxiliary instruments threaten to bury the band -- if anything, Big Echo takes a page from Pet Sounds by allowing the production to shine on its own, highlighting the studio embellishments but never shifting focus away from the band’s own hooks. The Morning Benders have improved their game, and Big Echo finds them focusing not only on what they’re singing, but how they’re presenting it.