After two albums of mediocre Pixies-esque rock, Earlimart changed their sound so completely that you couldn't even tell it was the same band -- creating "Everyone Down Here," a slice of mellow, Grandaddy-esque pop. And their fourth album "Treble and Tremble" continues that trend, but refines their sound as a bittersweet, lush ode to Elliott Smith.
The sound: Gentle acoustic pop-rock with a few haunting sonic sweeps, and vocals that sound like they're singing a perpetual lullaby. "Valley People" is forty seconds of undulating experimentation, and songs like "A Bell and a Whistle" linger on as gentle, pensive spacey folk songs that sound a bit like Grandaddy B-sides.
Some songs like the gritty "Sounds" take a rock-ier edge, with a blurred bass running behind the fast guitar riffs. But then at the chorus it becomes softer, and about two thirds through it slows down into a meandering melody. The roiling "Unintentional Tape Manipulation" sounds like an album recorded in a haunted house.
A melancholy thread runs through "Treble and Tremble." Their last album didn't really have much of a unifying theme, but now Earlimart's focus seems to be on loneliness and lack of communication. It's a sign of a more mature band if their music is not only evolving, but their songwriting is as well.
Heavy stuff, and apparently was inspired by late, much-lamented musician Elliott Smith, who was a neighbor of Earlimart's Aaron Espinoza, and whom the album is dedicated to. This textured, poignant album seems even more so when you think of Smith: "I said goodbye/to my whole family/I hope they'll miss me/as much as you." Espinoza seems to be almost asking Smith -- too late -- to hang on because he cares.
And after the radical change in sound, they seem more settled and polished in this outing, possibly due to Grandaddy's Jim Fairchild. Yes, they sound like Grandaddy in their softer tracks. But they also forge their own new paths in psychedelica, such as the distorted, fuzzy, lurching rock of "Unintentional Tape Manipulation." It shows that they aren't just imitating the robot-rock sound.
Most of the softer, poppier tracks are slow, careful mixtures of piano, watery synths and acoustic guitar, occasionally with what sounds like violins and some merely okay percussion. What it has going for it is that this time is that the arrangements are more complex and layered, rather than just being guitar with a few synths sprinkled on top.
Espinoza's distant vocals sound strangely intimate, and the songs are even more complex than they were before. Okay, they're still really simple, but it's a simplicity that speaks of sad honesty rather than a lack of songwriting talent. "You found yourself/some mental health/but don't forget to write/and stay home at night..."
Earlimart hasn't sounded this good since... well, ever. "Treble and Tremble" is a moving, beautiful experience, and -- once you know about Smith and Espinoza's friendship -- a bittersweet one. For anyone who has loved, and lost, and thought back on both.