Ever since my brother put “We Drink on the Job” on a compilation CD for my birthday, I’ve been a fan of Earlimart. Now, that certainly doesn’t qualify me as an expert as I had missed an entire few chapters of the band’s early career. But, from that point on, between the releases of Everyone Down Here and Treble & Tremble, it’s been Earlimart version 2.0. The catalyst, as most Earlimart fans will know, was the death of friend and inspiration Elliott Smith. The tragic turn of events led to the band’s music being almost singularly influenced by Smith’s work. In fact, “Heaven Adores You,” a song dedicated to Smith on the Treble album, could easily have been stolen from Smith’s own catalog. Three long years passed between Treble and the band’s fifth album, Mentor Tormentor, with the end result being a continued trend toward the baroque orchestral Beatlesesque pop that Smith so loved.
I wanted to review that record, but the duties went to one of my Seattle Treble buddies, Mr. Mars Simpson. Mars was quick to point out the seemingly unwavering devotion to Smith and his music, which is understandable, and frankly completely unavoidable. But whereas Mars warns Earlimart leader, and now only half of the band, Aaron Espinoza to beware his own sycophantic urges, I cannot help but admire the self same. I mean, you have to give credit to his solemn dedication to honoring and recapturing the sounds of a fallen friend. But it’s not just that. It’d be one thing if Espinoza were aping the music of a terrible band, like L.A. Guns taking the lead from Mötley Crüe, but Smith’s music is more than just generally praised, it’s near-religiously revered. (Note: the Mötley Crüe reference reminds me of a band name a friend and I wanted to create called Umlaut, but every letter would have one. That’s rock and roll.)
First off, is it strange that this year we’ve seen a `She & Him’ and now a Hymn & Her? Of course, the latter, the subject of this review, suggest some kind of spiritual devotion, and this album has it. “Song For,” the first track off of Hymn & Her picks up where Mentor Tormentor left off, with more chamber pop and dulcet toned voice that at least comforts us that someone has picked up the torch left behind by Smith. One of the highlights of that last effort was “Happy Alone,” the lone track sung by his now only other bandmate, Ariana Murray. Those mesmerized by her fluid vocal style will be happy to know that she triples her output on Hymn & Her, singing the standout “Before It Gets Better,” with the eerie but catchy chorus of “It’s a bloodbath,” and “it’s a deathtrap,” “Time for Yourself” and the hypnotic closer “Tell Me.”
Otherwise, for ill or for better, you get exactly what you’d expect from another Earlimart album released so soon after their last. Fans will be soothed by the warm production and familiar, but welcome territory while detractors will note the `on the nose’ efforts of “Song For” and the equally effective “God Loves You the Best,” the latter sounding like a combination of “Something” and “Because.” And, if you’re one of those people complaining about something sounding too much like Elliott Smith and the Beatles, maybe you should go back to your Captain Beefheart records and leave this one for the people who’ll enjoy it.