There are countless examples of decent noisy indie-rock out there, vying for our attention, ravenous consumers that we are. But how about noisy indie-rock alongside gorgeous experimental melodic pop? And, with what can only be described as contrarian panache, all of the above delivered in a fleet 12-minute impressionistic blur that leaves us with hunger pangs for more of the same, in spite of our jaded taste buds.
Earlimart's The Avenues EP is merely a precursor for the soon-to-be-released (22 April 2003) full-length Everyone Down Here. But what a taster it is. In a world of filler and bulk, in which everything hangs on the units shifted regardless of their value, the restraint shown by offering such a delicately brief appetizer is beyond admirable; it's downright courageous.
One Aaron Espinoza is the heart, soul, and brains behind Earlimart, providing musicianship (voice, guitars), songwriting, and technical expertise (production, engineering) for this project (named after a local Southern California town). Ariana Murray (bass, keys) and Davey Latter (drums) round out the remaining contributions. Yes, So Cal. It's no accident that that oddly Southwestern juxtaposition of overloaded urban dissociation and creepily arid rural distrust stamps itself all over The Avenues EP.
The five-song EP, coming in at little over 12 minutes, is maddeningly brief, and yet the terrain covered in that time is astonishing. "Color Bars" opens with staticky deep-sea sonar-like sounds, over which mournful strings and subtle piano figures gradually assert themselves, amid increasingly confident and urgent beats. Even the further layering of bold acoustic strumming and understated vocals ("We'll be happy if they hate us / Our friends will be outside / . . . We'll be happy if we can") avoids cluttering this remarkably affecting song through deft work at the mixing desk, achieving that perfect balance of genuine melancholia and memorable melodicism.
"Susan's Husband's Gunshop" somehow rises full-fledged from the contemplative ashes of the opener, delivering a pristinely poised example of that noisy indie-rock mentioned earlier, all fuzz-drenched guitar and swirling psychedelic organ. It could have been jarring, but it isn't, perhaps because of the warm layered vocal tracks that seem to gradually urge spirit over conceit. Similarly, this overt rocker merges seamlessly into another acoustic strummer (the excellent "Interloper"), toying with indie cliché yet ultimately transcending it through a unique ménage a trois of vaguely distorted vocals, wistful swinging rhythm and a pretty yet oddly pitiful piano figure.
Following this, an untitled instrumental lopes forward like a wounded stranger in a dusty town square, an inexplicably chilling single-note church bell dogging its path, until birdsong drowns everything out like small town indifference and the enveloping threat of secrecy. The folk-amiable "Parking Lots" rounds out the EP inoffensively, vaguely bittersweet like Elliott Smith frolicking with Doves.
Throughout, there are nuanced electronic tweaks, creaks, howls, and doodles that clearly enhance the overall texture without calling attention to themselves, or more specifically, to their contemporaneity.
CD sales are down, right? Perhaps because of file sharing. More likely because people simply can't justify forking out the cost of a full-length album when they can guarantee that more than half of it (if they're lucky) will be substandard, pretty much whomever releases it. Well, it appears Earlimart have just discovered the surprisingly simple antidote to all that: short, exquisite, indelibly sublime sonic collages, running infuriatingly short, yet resonating insatiably long.
Of course, the pressure's now on for their upcoming full-length. Fingers crossed that these particular avenues don't prove to be blind alleys.