After some likable EPs, California foursome officially come out of the gate with a debut that makes for a nice listen, but struggles to be distinguishable.
There’s a point during the Morning Benders’ “Wasted Time”, off Talking Through Tin Cans, when songwriter and lead vocalist Chris Chu asks, “are you through wasting my time / Or have you brought me something new”. Though certainly directed towards an indecisive love interest in the context of the song, such lyrical interrogation coincidentally carries its own unique weight in relation to the Morning Benders themselves and their full-length debut.
Adopting what has become a standard method for many up-and-coming bands, this Berkeley, California quartet easily solidified the anticipation of this first album by riding the well-received wave of several pre-emptive EP releases.
What’s different, however, between the Morning Benders and the like-minded strategy of their indie contemporaries is that rather than cherry-pick one or two top-notch compositions off their previous releases -- or at least take the risk of generating all new material -- the Morning Benders filled six of Tin Cans’ 11 tracks with music most listeners may already have plugged into their music library. While this kind of executive oversight will have little consequence on those uninitiated with the group’s EPs, Talking Through Tin Cans, with all its light and tight pop hooks, jangly guitars, and tambourine shakes, still feels like a record that’s been done before.
Drawing obvious influence from the looseness and bounce of the early Beatles and the Kinks, each of the Morning Benders' three-and-a-half minute melodies shares a more discernible sonic resemblance to the work of indie stalwarts the Shins. Taking in account the group’s slightly off-kilter rhythms, to their quirky lilt, the biggest likeness comes from Chu’s unmistakable vocal delivery, a punch-drunk wail that shares all the register-reaching octaves of James Mercer.
From the album’s rollicking acoustic opener, “Damnit Anna”, to its drifting finger-picked closer, “When We’re Apart”, many of the songs off the Morning Benders’ debut come across like Chu’s lovelorn protagonists: they all seem really nice, but they just can’t seem to fully win you over. There’s nothing wrong with such mild agreeability, but songs like “Patient Patient”, “Boarded Doors”, or the aforementioned “Wasted Time”, hardly bear a listener’s repeated attention.
This aside, Talking Through Tin Cans's strongest songs present themselves during the album’s middle. “Crosseyed”, for example -- while sounding like a discarded take off Chutes Too Narrow -- shuffles along with a downward bass-line crawl and kazoo harmonies. “Waiting on a War”, the band’s designated single, making good use of a plinking, out-of-tune piano, works well in getting the toes in a tapping charge. “Heavy Hearts”, meanwhile, offers a much needed pace change, with Chu’s wavering whisper accompanied by muted acoustic strums, before building to a climax of “whoa ohs” harmonies and a rising refrain, “everyone looks the same”.
In a recent interview with Filter, Chu stated that the band wants to explore as many different places musically as they can and that one of the things he doesn’t like is that once musical artists find their sound, all they want to do is keep making the same album or slight variations of it. Talking through Tins Cans is not the record of a band that has found its sound. Here’s hoping, with their potential, they have a long career of never finding it.