Shout Factory 2008
Earlimart have been on an unusually rapid creative spree recently, churning out another finely wrought, meticulously produced album of gentle indie-pop less than a year after 2007’s excellent Mentor Tormentor. Now only a simple duo with frontman and Elliott Smith-worshipper Aaron Espinoza joined by songstress Ariana Murray, Earlimart prove on Hymn and Her that as a couple they are still more than able enough to create a record bursting with fresh melodies and waves of tuneful sounds.
“Song For” starts off the album in the same vein as Mentor Tormentor’s “Fakey Fake,” an immediately grabbing drum pattern and a subtle guitar propelling Espinoza’s wisp of a voice. Earlimart revel in slowly adding layer upon layer of sounds and musical ideas onto their songs, and “Song For” is a fantastic example of this technique. Ideas develop and branch out almost without being noticed, creating a tapestry of fine-tuned pop almost without the listener even noticing any abrupt change.
Delicate harmonizing and a few simple piano lines turn “Face Down in the Right Town” into an attractive slice of California pop, Espinoza and Murray’s seemingly effortless vocal interplay a constant highlight. Murray even takes the lead on three songs, starting with the lovely “Before It Gets Better,” and her voice is a soothing counterpoint to Espinoza’s Elliott Smith whisper.
While Mentor and Tormentor’s sonic landscapes were slowly carved over a period of years, Hymn and Her achieves the same effect with less than a year’s worth of recording, and Espinoza’s bag of sunny melodies is evidently a bottomless sack. From the memorable hook of “For The Birds,” with its long-distance love lyrics and the dreamy guitar solo at the end to the chirruping birds and acoustic rhythm transforming into an urgent, electric crunch on “Cigarettes and Kerosene,” Earlimart are in no way lacking for ideas.
The weak point of the record, as with many Earlimart releases, is the often-lackluster lyrical content. Many of the lyrics seem to be tossed off to coincide with the song’s mood, simple word dressing to accompany the main attraction, in this case the intimate, layered music. At several points throughout Hymn and Her I would have been challenged to explain what Espinoza and Murray were getting at, and when I could, it was often not worth explaining, such as the alcoholic lament on “God Loves You The Best” or the schoolboy melancholy of “Teeth.”
But the highlight of the record is, without doubt, the obvious audiophile love and care that went into the music and the intimate, fireside vibe Earlimart have painlessly produced. Guitars strum and bubble up from a tidal pool of carefully laid ambient noises, keyboards chime in on all the right places, and Espinoza and Murray’s voices, which, while neither are ever going to be considered revolutionary or truly inspiring, are pleasantly in harmony with each other and the music around them. Earlimart are never going to be the band that breaks new and exciting musical ground with each release, but Hymn and Her proves that, just maybe, consistency isn’t such a bad thing after all.