Earlimart pared itself down to the vocalist duo of Aaron Espinoza and Arianna Murray for Hymn and Her, a loose and stripped affair. It's a much more relaxed and sprawling collection of breathy sighs into an Elliot Smith afterworld (his name was going to come up somewhere -- might as well do it now) than the group’s previous five albums. Lush, baroque-pop drifts like the gorgeous 4AD’d “For the Birds” or the slow-motion, horn-accented “Face Down in the Right Town” are lovely, but they’re only half of what Earlimart does well.
The other half -- irresistible, up-tempo indie rock 'n' pop like “Song For," with a propulsive acoustic strum and cascades of multitracked vocals and buzzing guitar lines, or the soundscaped borealis of “Teeth,” with insistent, driving rhythms -- is relegated to the J.V. Instead, Espinoza and Murray immerse their wistful vocals within gauzy iceflows of melancholic production. This would be fine if not for the fact that so many of the songs here merge together like massive run-on sentences, without the necessary punctuation that Earlimart’s harder-edged songs can provide.
The remainder of the album's problems reside in the production. The majority of the down-tempo tracks (which roughly equals 80 percent of the entire LP) are bundled in a cat’s cradle of dewy, pale-misted knob-twirling, leaving the songs to hall-of-mirror themselves endlessly before the CD stops spinning. While consistency can be integral, there is a fine line that tripwires between it and repetition.
Make no mistake, though—the music of Hymn and Her is good, and the songs are almost always uniformly excellent examples of finely-honed pop songcraft. But when each excellent song sounds just like the slow, rainy Sunday pulse of a track that just preceded it, well, a few less hymns and a few more songs for rocking are in order.
Hymn and Her is Earlimart's follow-up to 2007's Mentor Tormentor. Like its predecessor, this album comes via Earlimart's own Shout Factory imprint, Majordomo. Part of the explanation behind the album's name is that Ealimart pared down to the duo at its core, Aaron Espinoza and Ariana Murray. Espinoza and Murray holed themselves up in Espinoza's studio, the Ship, in the Eagle Rock section of Los Angeles (where Espinoza has recorded many a prominent L.A. band) to crank out a new album. A month later, the two emerged. Hymn and Her finds Murray taking on more songwriting and singing duties, after contributing only one song, "Happy Alone," to Mentor Tormentor.