Earlimart: Treble & Tremble

[1 November 2004]

By Jon Goff

The minute and a half known as “Hold on Slow Down” that opens the new Earlimart record tells you all you need to know. In his best Ben Gibbard/Elliott Smith, Aaron Espinoza whispers the following lines: “Hold on you might be perfect / Hold on you might be worth it”. Rather than shoot for Smith’s morose confessionals or Gibbard’s sly situational observations, Espinoza opts for cheap sentiment beneath layers of grandiose atmospherics. And on it goes in its pleasantly hum-able way for thirteen tracks of toy piano and la, la, la. The warm fuzziness is piled high, but it can’t hide the unremarkable performances that lie beneath. And by the end, even the elegant minutia of the production ends up feeling like a diversion, like a lot pomp and circumstance for a promise that never comes.

Sadly, the individual songs on Treble & Tremble are largely interchangeable given that they’re almost completely lost within the album’s oppressively hazy sway. Take “First Instant Last Report”, for instance. The melody is so frighteningly close to that of the late Elliott Smith, but at the same time so doused in sugar, that it almost feels bastardized and stripped of its soul. The muted strum and ticked off percussion of “The Hidden Track” makes for a head bobbing little ride through dippy rhymes like: “You oughta know by now / Or we’ll have to teach you how”, but by this point it’s obvious that it’s not important what’s being said as long as compression on the vocals is just right when the electric strings wash in. “Sounds” opens up with a bit of Strokes-ian guitar fuzz and then proceeds to tell us about the “sound of sound” on its descent into a refrain of “ahhhhhh-haaaaaaa-haaaaaa-haaaaa”, before a final landing swaddled in acoustic strumming and organ sustain. Then there’s thirty-nine seconds of backwards tape. Thanks. “All They Ever Do Is Talk” actually holds an interest for a few minutes as Espinoza waxes bitter about the “industry”, but the lazy sway of the chorus already feels done to death by this point. It’s just too soft. The dripping fog of skin-tingling sweetness starts to crawl all over you. “Broke the Furniture” slides in on a warm bed of reverb, but it’s just too eerie the way Espinoza lets every line trail off just like Smith before humming us another chorus. The bombastic drum machine of “Unintentional Tape Manipulations” seems jarring given its context, but it does manage to rattle you awake before it grows tiresome after close to six minutes.

Just in case you hadn’t run out of patience, “Heaven Adores You” has the nerve to open with the line, “Stepped on the cracks / But you broke your own back”, soon after which the song’s title is repeated eight or ten times before a good minute and half of “ooh-ooh-oohs” and keyboards. Then, you guessed it, forty-nine seconds of cricket sounds. There’s a line in “Tell the Truth, Pt. 1” that sticks out about some unidentified “you” not knowing “shit” about the narrative “me”, but before we get a chance to follow up on that little nugget, the song is switched into autopilot, literally turned off and phoned in, and the lyric sheet actually spells out the “ooooohhhs” and “aaaahhhs” for us this time. Actually, I lied, by this point I’ve learned all I want to know about “you”.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/earlimart-treble/