Elliott Smith may be kicking around in that great lost and found in the sky, but Earlimart’s Aaron Espinoza and Ariana Murray are bent on resuscitating the late singer-songwriter’s most captivating works in his absence. Mentor Tormentor, album number five for the Los Angeles band, recalls Smith’s later works in a way that would seem like a tribute if it didn’t sound like a missing outtake reel from XO. With their latest effort, Earlimart pay homage to an icon whose leaving still lingers like a late September afternoon in the face of an autumnal breeze.
Nowhere near the precise sophistication of Smith’s intricate guitar picking or densely layered vocals, Mentor Tormentor yet bears the inescapable stamp of its greatest influence. Espinoza’s vocals strain under the pained, almost forced-sounding emulation of Smith’s own tormented voice, as if to channel his memory caused physical discomfort. Tinny piano chords, a general lyrical malaise, and of course plenty of acoustic and electric guitars; all the requisite parts required for the formula abound. But like a frustrated child mashing together two puzzle pieces that don’t quite fit, Espinoza and company have tinkered with the scope of a much larger picture than they can rightly grasp.
As a follow-up to the crisp, surprisingly heartfelt Treble & Tremble, Mentor Tormentor suffers perhaps most acutely from a case of over-blown ambition. Espinoza’s ghostly tremor on “Fakey Fake,” for instance, sounds so much like Smith he might as well be holding a séance to channel his spirit. “Happy Alone” is Tormentor‘s “Baby Britain,” piled with pianos and (for the first and last time) Murray on lead vocals. The similarities aren’t just fleeting either, they’re downright eerie (and consistent). Somewhere a body rolls over in its grave.
Even as the term `indie’ continues its descent into oblivion and bands scramble to gather themselves on its coattails, there will be a place for the sort of obedient imitation endemic to such a bulging and overgrown music scene. In the meanwhile, Mr. Espinoza, you’d do right to tip your hat without sinking to your knees in complete subservience to your influences.
Elliott Smith – XO
Death Cab For Cutie – The Photo Album
Tapes & Tapes – The Loon