“Promises” – The Morning Benders

Chunky, loping, and unaccountably engaging new song from a long-time Fingertips favorite. But never fear, I will try to account for it. First, note how the octave harmonies (I always love octave harmonies as you may know by now) set up the first kind-of-hook, which is at 0:25, when the melody shifts from something low and slinky to something higher and more forceful. The melodic shift hooks the attention precisely because of the octave harmonies: the first half of the melody naturally focuses your ear on the lower harmony voice but when the higher-register section starts the ear now latches onto the higher voice. So it’s like we hear a more pronounced displacement than is actually happening. It may not be a hook per se but it’s subtly compelling. You want to keep listening.

Next point on the tour: that crunchy, unresolved chord that both ends one verse and starts the next (0:31). And then, notice that as the second verse unfolds, it doesn’t play out like verse one, and now for the first time we get phrases that stand out both musically and lyrically. The first is when Chris Chu sings “They say it’s only natural,” and then, even better: the linchpin point to which the song has been building (0:58), at the lyric, “I can’t help thinking we grew up too fast.” Things deconstruct a bit after that, with shifting time signatures and accumulating noise. And round about now I’m noticing how thick with musical detail this song actually is–there are engaging guitar licks, hidden keyboard flourishes, unexpected percussive accents, stray sounds, and an ongoing parade of nifty chord changes. These guys know what they’re doing.

The Morning Benders, a quartet from Berkeley, are no strangers here, having been featured twice previously–in June ’08 and, for the sublime “Grain of Salt,” in December ’06. “Promises” is from the Big Echo, the band’s second full-length, and first for Rough Trade Records, due out next month. MP3 via the Beggars Group, of which Rough Trade is a part.




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