When I first heard Treble and Tremble, I could have sworn Aaron Espinoza was channeling Elliott Smith. I was perplexed; it was not the Earlimart I remembered.
In the four years since I'd seen them last, Espinoza became friends with Jason Lytle of Grandaddy, then began writing songs with Elliott Smith. On Treble and Tremble, the presence of Elliott Smith is everywhere; it's a haunting, beautiful record.
To be fair, Earlimart doesn't always sound exactly like Elliott Smith, and this was evident at the show they played last Thursday at Plush. Earlimart can get loud--they can use their old rock and pop ways for awesome rather than evil. They can rest a song on a complicated and catchy drum hook, and get the room on its feet.
Earlimart moves from quiet to loud and from instrument to instrument seamlessly; bassist Ariana Murray moved from bass to synth mid-song a couple times, and guitarist Jim Fairchild (who also plays with Grandaddy) kept playing a keyboard with his acoustic guitar slung across his shoulder. Joel Graves sometimes played bass. They played most of the songs on Treble and Tremble, and little bits that aren't as present on the record received their deserved distinction; listen carefully to "About Ending" for the subtle snare drum sound--it's Davey Latter circling brushes around in a rhythmic pattern.
While Earlimart takes the sound and feel of Elliott Smith and translates it into their own language successfully, their tour mates The Shore, also from Los Angeles, don't fare so well. The three-piece sounded exactly like a band from Sweden called Kent, and also a lot like Radiohead. Their songs had that certain European swoon to them, which loses all credibility when you know they're just from L.A.
Tucson's own Solace Brothers played between The Shore and Earlimart, warming the room up with their energetic keyboard and guitar rock. This was the first time I'd seen the Brothers, and I could tell why they scored an opening slot on Built to Spill's tour last year; they have the same pulse as Built to Spill. The whole night, then, was made up of bands taking cues from their more successful musical contemporaries, and, for the most part, acting out their own solid interpretations. So perhaps Earlimart's Elliott Smith-esque sound would still be welcomed with open arms, even if Smith were still alive.