Monday, July 7, 2008

Backstory and Earlimart "Hymn and Her" CD review

I first learned of Earlimart in 2005. It was August that year I rediscovered rock (indie-rock specifically) and developed such a voracious, unquenchable need to discover more of this incredible new music. Each band I learned about kept opening doors to other bands, and, not being a radio listener (I'm more of a full album listener, not a random sampler), I turned to music videos which I kept seeing on TV shows like "Refused TV" (What happened to this extraordinary show and it's swearing robot!) and "Subterranean" on MTV2. That was how I learned about music all through 2005 and 2006. I just kept video taping all the videos I saw that I liked and ended up with a list of at least 100 bands I found intriguing and about 30 hours of music videos. It seemed like even the smallest band could make a music video if they had access to a cell phone camera, and I saw some amazing, inventive filmmaking.

Now it seems corporate America has put a stop to it, as all windows of access for these videos seem to be presently slammed shut. Even "Subterranean" and "The Dive" have vanished from MTV2 and FUSE-TV. Are the major record labels squawking again?!

The first video I saw was "Rebellion" by Arcade Fire, and within three minutes, my life had changed and my future direction took a radical turn. It was that sudden. I saw people...artists, really...singing, playing musical instruments (a great variety of musical instruments), heard compositionally complex songwriting with lyrics that had deep meaning. I was flabbergasted! Certain as I was that rock was a long dead art form.

Each video opened a new pandoras box for me and I eagerly looked forward to 11 o'clock each Monday night when "Refused TV" was on Public Access. Among the videos I taped was "Heaven Adores You" by Earlimart. Right away I knew I was hearing a song I would regard as an all time rock and roll classic. Apart from being incredibly moving, it really rocked! The video is just a series of snapshots of various band members layed over each other over and over and I was hypnotized, not only by the song, but by the people in the photos. They looked like real people, not the heavily artificial creatures I' d been seeing stalking the earth for the last 20 years, but genuine human beings I could relate to. Their music was telling me what's inside these people. I remember thinking at the time how great it would be to actually meet people like this. Two years later and I number many of them among my friends. Life can be very amazing.

Earlimart released their new CD "Hymn and Her" (Major Domo) last Tuesday (July 1) and I wouldn't ordinarily write anything about it so soon. I think,as a rule, I'd rather let an album work its way into my psyche before reviewing it. But this album has already made an impression.

Where "Treble and Tremble" dealt with loss and coming to terms with the anger, blame, hoplessness and ultimate power of forgivness, it remains, all these years after it's release, moving, honest, and deeply personal. The raw anger in a song like "Broke the Furniture" is positively catharcic.

"Mentor Tormentor" is a giant, enthralling achievement, that I still play all the time even a year after it came out. Many songs have a grand symphonic sweep yet retain that core Earlimart song style. It was such fun to see them all those times last year touring behind this CD with the String Dream Team. This album has songs of reason and acceptance (to a degree) that I love including "Answers and Questions", "Nevermind the Phonecalls" and "700>100". I think Aaron Espinoza is pretty good at looking life in the eyes and calling it what it is. I admire his ability. The album also introduced Ariana Murray as a songwriter of considerable skill, both musically and lyrically with "Happy Alone".

On "Hymn and Her", Aaron and Ari decided to write quickly and record quickly in contrast to the long process involved on "Mentor Tormentor" and the results are astonishing. Beginning with "Song For" which I've heard live a few times, recorded it comes off as a perfect Earlimart song. "Face Down in the Right Town" features a beautiful vocal performance by Aaron, straightforward lyrics and a haunting harmony. "Before it Gets Better" is Ariana'a first contribution and, I think, it's one of the best Earlimart songs ever. I love the rueful, matter-of-fact lyrics and the gorgeous counterpointal composition. She seems to establish a melody then drop in her main theme over, under and around it. Another of her songs is "Time For Yourself" which is a rumination on solitude and features beautiful piano work. "Cigarettes and Kerosese" is a real rocker about the combustibility of youthful misbehavior that should get you up and dancing around your room (do I hear a hint of Bollywood?). "Teeth" and "Town Where You Belong" are two more standouts.

The artwork is simple and appropriate and the production is perfection, right up to Aaron's usual standards, with inestimable support from Andrew Lynch. Finally, there's a resolution and peace in this CD that indicates, if not the end of a troubling journey, at least the reaching of a comfortable (temporary?) resting place (within the context of the larger journey). I trust I make myself obscure. Plainly put, I think this is an extraordinary work of art.


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