August 15, 2008

Earlimart - Hymn and Her (2008)

Earlimart is quite the prolific indie rock band with Hymn and Her coming out just one year after last July’s Mentor Tormentor. Subtract a few previous members and Earlimart is now 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," they share vocal duties. Although he mostly sings lead while she offers backup vocals, this record marks Murray’s debut as capable female lead vocalist, as well. Hopefully, this becomes a signature mainstay. Starting my indie rock reconnaissance six records in, I'd say HAH is an excellent introduction to their sun-kissed brand of California dream pop. If you're a fan of bands like Pedro The Lion, Rogue Wave, Camera Obscura, and American Analog Set, you'll be adding Earlimart to that list.

HAH is incredibly fluid, with each song flowing seamlessly into the next. Boasting a sunny disposition and easy-going feel, this record 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 no worries-- soothing melodies coupled with relatable lyrics is a musical formula that never gets old. 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 coos in an ocean of “ooh’s” and “ahh’s,” but either way… when their vocals collide, you’re in for some sonic sensuality.

Remember when Hope Sandoval (of Mazzy Star) and Jim Reid (of Jesus and Mary Chain) unexpectedly wrote the romantic duet, "Sometimes Always," that left the masses wishing they'd collaborated on an entire album afterwards? Well, this might be 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 Lewis-es, and Emily Haines-es 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).

The record opens with "Song For," a great driving tune that hits you... much like a song on full blast when you turn the engine and realize you left your car radio on. The Camera Obscura-esque break-up gem, "Before It Gets Better," is simply serene and quite possibly a song we’ve all written in a past-life. 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” that 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," the electronic beats sashay around with simple piano and add a nice contrasting touch that works alongside her dreamy voice. "For The Birds" and "God Loves You The Best" are, at best, watered-down Rogue Wave, where "Teeth" is a slightly less irritating, cheap imitation of The Dandy Warhols. But "Great Heron Gates" showcases Espinoza’s whispery vocals a-la-Snow Patrol, plus the usage of bird sounds is 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 where is the obvious duet? On the uber-romantic title track, this was a potentially amazing duet that never happened. They sing so gently here where it's almost as if she's blowing air on his vocals adding to the sweetness, but she never got the chance to shine on her own, alongside him. An acoustic cover of, say The Postal Service’s "Nothing Better," or an updated spin on Jesus and Mary Chain’s "Sometimes Always" would have been stellar avenues they didn't explore. I was also irked 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.

The Final Verdict:
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. Earlimart crafts atmospheric mood music that's meant to be enjoyed by every him and every her during life’s more tender moments. So before you turn out the lights, be sure to turn this record on ;-)


Mona said...

Okay, I know this one was super long but I just really really liked it and I hadn't written in a long time and... err, I'm sorry :)

awmercy said...

I finally got my computer set up and was able to listen to Earlimart again. You right, it's cool. I especially liked "Before It Gets Better". I'm glad you pushed me to check it out.

Mona said...

YAY! Thanks for being so conscientious about it. I absolutely LOVE "Before It Gets Better," although I had a feeling you'd like "Face Down In The Right Town" more... hmm.