Earlimart is shaping up to be quite the prolific indie rock band with their sixth studio release, Hymn and Her (available now on Majordomo Records), coming out just one year after last July’s Mentor Tormentor. Subtract a few previous members and Earlimart now exists solely as a duo. Specifically, Aaron Espinoza and Ariana Murray make beautiful hymns together while keeping the ‘him’ and ‘her’ in, well, Hymn and Her. Aside from winning the award for “Album Title Pun Of The Year,” Espinoza and Murray share vocal duties. Although he mostly sings lead while she complements him with backup vocals, this record marks Murray’s debut as a capable female lead vocalist, as well… and hopefully this becomes a signature mainstay.
After countless recommendations from trusted resources, I was hesitant starting my indie rock reconnaissance six albums in. However, Hymn serves as an excellent introduction to their sun-kissed brand of California dream pop. Many claim their entire sound catalogue bears heavy resemblance to the likes of Elliott Smith, the Pixies, and Sonic Youth. It also seems to me the sounds crafted here are in the vein of Pedro The Lion, Rogue Wave, Camera Obscura, and American Analog Set. If you already dig these artists, it’s safe to assume you’ll be a fan of Earlimart sooner than Ryan Adams churns out yet another record.
This entire album is incredibly fluid, with each song flowing seamlessly into the next. Boasting a sunny disposition and easy-going feel, Hymn is great for a long drive along the coast or a laid-back evening at home sipping wine on the couch. Thematically speaking, these songs don’t exactly span continents but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing because soothing melodies coupled with relatable lyrics is a musical formula that never gets old.
Remember when Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star) and Jim Reid (Jesus and Mary Chain) unexpectedly wrote the romantic duet, “Sometimes Always,” that left people wishing they had collaborated on an entire album afterwards? Well, Hymn basically sounds like the album they never made. Much like Reid, Espinoza occasionally rocks the cool guy quasi-spoken word vocals (and actually gets away with it) and as Sandoval, Murray could teach the Feists, Jenny Lewises, and Emily Haineses of today what it is to be sultry. In fact, when Espinoza and Murray’s musical chemistry comes together, they produce gorgeous results. With his resonance and her sensuality, together they “really make babies when the mic’s on” (quoth Kanye West).
In a world of noise-based indie, sometimes it’s nice to discover some great make-out music that’s perfect for getting your horizontal sway on. Espinoza and Murray craft atmospheric mood music that’s meant to be enjoyed by every him and every her during life’s more tender moments. And the instrumental arrangements form sound pieces that are warm, mellow and intimate, much like the prelude to a really good kiss. Sometimes it’s Espinoza’s silky smooth tone, other times its Murray’s wispy backup vocals that serve as gentle coos in an ocean of “ooh’s” and “ahh’s,” but either way… when their vocals collide, you’re in for some sonic sensuality.
The record opens up with “Song For” a catchy number that hits you much like a song on full blast when you turn your engine and realized you left the car radio on. It’s also the album’s best driving tune. The Camera Obscura-esque break-up gem,“Before it gets better,” is serene in its simplicity and quite possibly a song we’ve all written in a past-life. Much like a newfound relic of love fallen from grace, this song is hauntingly beautiful and allows Murray’s voice to shine. But it’s “Face Down In The Right Town” that showcases Espinoza crooning along with Murray’s soft “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” and reminds us how harmonious male/female vocal interplay can be. Plus, the surprise trumpet at the end adds a jazzy mariachi feel to mix things up a bit. On “Time For Yourself” (a Murray number), the electronic beats sashay around with simple piano and add a nice contrasting touch that works along her dreamy voice.
Then there’s a bevy of tracks that are decent Earlimart songs or just good because they sound like some of indie rock’s forerunners. “For The Birds” and “God Loves You The Best” have soaring vocals reminiscent of Rogue Wave, where “Teeth” is a cheap-imitation of “We Used To Be Friends” by The Dandy Warhols, only better and slightly less irritating. “Great Heron Gates” showcases Espinoza’s whispery vocals a la Snow Patrol, plus the usage of bird sounds are the cutest thing since Tom Petty did it on “Learning To Fly.”
My only real criticism is you strip a band down to a male/female duo, name the album Hymn and Her, but oddly… where is the obvious duet? On the uber-romantic title track (“Hymn and Her”), this was a potentially amazing duet that never happened. As he sings so gently as if she is blowing air on his vocals that adds even more sweetness, but she never gets a chance to shine on her own. An acoustic cover of, say Postal Service’s “Nothing Better,” or an updated spin on Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Sometimes Always” would have been stellar options they also did not take. It also irks me that they closed with “Tell Me” when second-to-last track “Town Where You Belong,” with its blaring vocal outro and slow hand claps, makes more sense as a closer. But when you find yourself criticizing just for criticism’s sake you know you’re reviewing one helluva solid album.
Written by: Mona Sheikh
Filed under: album reviews | Tagged: Aaron Espinoza, American Analog Set, Ariana Murray, Camera Obscura, earlimart, Elliott Smith, Emily Haines, feist, getting your horizontal sway on, Hope Sandoval, Hymn and Her, Indie dream pop, jenny lewis, Jesus and Mary Chain, Jim Reid, majordomo records, make-out music, Mentor Tormentor, monasheikh, Pedro The Lion, Pixies, Rogue Wave, Snow Patrol, Sonic Youth, the dandy warhols, Tom Petty | 1 Comment »