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Hymns of rock,
This review is from: Hymn and Her (Audio CD)
"Hymn and Her" has an appropriate title -- Earlimart has been whittled down to Aaron Espinoza and Ariana Murray.
Usually band lineups shrinking so far negatively affects a band's sound, especially if they manage to whip out two albums in a year. But if anything, their sound in their sixth full-length album "Hymn and Her" is gentler, smoother, and more polished in its music making. But most striking, it has a feeling of wistful intimacy, as if you're listening to a pair of battered lovers crooning together.
It opens with a sharp percussive beat, and Espinoza singing "Then I wanted to stop/take you back to the top/where the air is good and stars sing low..." Guitars and washes of keyboard slowly swamp over the drums, as he continues, "Took the long way/there's a doorway out loud...." That's the weakest song on the album.
Things grow softer in "Face Down in the Right Town," an intimate indiepop tune that swirls in on itself like a lullaby ("So you did what you thought was right/ooh, givin' up the fight/the only way that we knew was wrong/would be hangin' on and on"), and the shimmering piano-pop of "Before it Gets Better," which allows Murray's smooth vocals to take center stage.
They slip into a a string of mellow, melodious little indiepop songs -- spacey folk, shimmering epic pop melodies, harsher fuzzy-edged rock, piano-pop swirled into wobbling psychedelica, and the soaring experimental pain of "Great Heron Gates." But they stretch out into their eeriest territory with the last three songs: the transcendent build-up of the titular song, the gentle "Town Where You Belong," and the vaguely morbid fade-out of the finale.
Espinoza and Murray apparently are not a romantic couple. But evidently the band relationship between these two has much the same tone -- "Hymn and Her" is whittled down to the interactions between two people, and how they worry, comfort and support one another as the album winds on ("Baby, you need time for yourself/I'll give it to you/All the rest seems to logically follow...").
No wonder the lyrics have such a close, comfortable feeling, with Espinoza often voicing his doubts ("Are you there, Jesus?/You never know what you might find/They'll never know how hard you try... so wait a little longer this time"). His soft, smooth voice takes the lead most of the time, but Murray's girlish, slightly husky vocals take the counterpoint in a few of the songs, offering both comfort and realistic expectations ("We'll be on top of the moon/But till then it's a bloodbath...").
And though you don't notice it at first, the instrumentation has not dwindled with the band's size. It's never terribly catchy, but it's also more grounded than some of their past, ethereal work. The lean guitars and solid drums take center stage and there is some fuzzy bass in "Cigarettes and Kerosene" -- and that last song's rough texture somewhat disrupts the flow of the album. But they also weave in broad streams of synth -- which can shiver, twinkle, or shimmer -- as well as some truly exquisite organ which adds a solemn sound to certain songs.
As the finishing touch, especially in the second half, a piano gently ripples and stabs through the songs. And a violin adds bittersweet beauty to a couple of the songs near the end, especially the haunting "Tell Me." Maybe it's a portent of musical stylings to come, or maybe it's just a pretty addition.
The smaller size has not equalled smaller talent, and Earlimart is in fine form in their sixth full-length album. Beautifully mellow, doubtful and sweet -- and if they get what they deserve, then they'll be on top the moon soon with no bloodbath.