Treble & Tremble
This southern California band’s latest record may be a better epitaph for Elliott Smith than even his own posthumous release, From a Basement on the Hill. Earlimart singer/songwriter Aaron Spinoza hosted recording sessions for Smith at the studio he constructed, and Smith’s very recognizable sound seems to have rubbed off on him.
He’s certainly got the breathy, double-tracked vocals down. “Well I miss you my friend/Will I see your face again,” he sings on the opening piano ballad “Hold On Slow Down.” As you can tell from those lines, Spinoza and company are more sentimental than Smith ever was, but the effect is suitably touching. The next track, “First Instant Last Report,” sounds even more like Smith, with its simple plink-plunk piano melody and circular construction. It could have fit nicely on XO or Figure 8. “Heaven Adores You” has some of Smith’s fragility, and “Tell the Truth Parts 1 & 2” has some of his spirit. “I know I’m out of reach/And all the songs are out of key/Well I guess you just don’t know … shit about me,” Spinoza sings on the latter.
Spinoza also nods to his late pal on “All They Ever Do Is Talk.” “Nothing hurts until it’s gone,” he sings. And on “Broke the Furniture”: “Said goodbye to my whole family/I hope they’ll miss me as much you.” Finally, the set closing “It’s Okay to Think About Ending” offers these words of counsel: “Take care of your heart.”
But Treble and Tremble is not just a carbon copy of a Smith album. The more up-tempo track “Sounds” features an interlude like something from the French electronica duo Air. And some of the spacier, orchestrated stuff here may remind you of Love and Rockets. The effect combines warm, emotional words with chilly sounds. The hard to listen to track “Unintentional Tape Manipulations” breaks the spell of the album with its distorted drum machines, guitars and vocals. I suppose a break from the relentless soft melancholy was in order.
Overall, Treble and Tremble is a terrific sounding record and a nice farewell to Smith. Earlimart has come a long way from their experimental post-grunge origins, and it will be interesting to see where they go from here. Hopefully they can carry Smith’s spirit with them without becoming just pale imitators.