Ew, Baby. Ew, Baby. Ew.
Rough Trade, 2012
The band formerly known as The Morning Benders, who recently changed their name to POP ETC, have now made three full length albums, and despite some shared DNA, the band’s full length releases have been miles apart stylistically. However, the differences were never more apparent than between 2010’s Soft Bulletin influenced Big Echo, and this summer’s boy band R&B miscalculation, Chris Chu and company’s self-titled re-debut. POP ETC is, without a doubt, one of the dumbest releases of 2012.
It’s hard to say, based on the recentish changes the band has made if the old Morning Benders name and the new POP ETC (yes, all caps, yeesh) should be considered two separate acts, but it does not entirely appear that way. Chu made the change based on reportedly feeling “sick” that “bender” is a homophobic slang term in Britain, and wanted to distance himself and the group from any negative associations. More power to ‘em for doing so. That, along with some lineup changes, and a move from San Francisco to Brooklyn along with the more or less complete alteration of the band’s sound calls this into question though.
On The Morning Benders’ 2008 debut, Talking Through Tin Cans, the band played an easygoing, breezy folk pop, not completely outside the Shins’ wheelhouse. It was pleasant, even scoring some downright great moments but did little to prepare listeners for what came next. Big Echo was a massive leap forward, filled with huge, sweeping orchestral hooks, and was really one of the great left-field successes of 2010. Less purposefully weird than Flaming Lips, Big Echo was a warm, lush mini-masterpiece. As 2012 arrives at its own middle, the orchestration, the hooks, and the amiable charm have been kicked to the curb, leaving behind a “radio-friendly” stab at mainstream crossover success circa 1999.
So Chu and the gang have had a quarter-life crisis, it would seem. Chu’s voice is, to his credit well suited to the synth and bass-heavy pop tunes here and is also tailor made for excessive use of aoutotune. More problematically, however, is that the backing beats lack the artfulness and pomp of say, Drake. Instead, they come off as cynical and cloying, the perfect background music for an American Pie straight-to-DVD spinoff.
And the lyrics, OH THE LYRICS! Worst offender – both musically and lyrically is Chu’s smarmy poem to banging chicks on the road “Live it Up”. “I ain’t never disrespect no woman, never call her a ho!” is about as eloquent as he gets here, and the bathos bloated blips and bleeps mirror the painful poetics, beat for beat. It’s truly weird seeing a band like a respected, up and comer POP ETC (Morning Benders) make such a drastic shift in tone, and all the stranger when they choose to follow such a mindless path.