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Members include Solon Bixler, guitar; Aaron Espinoza, vocals, guitar; Davey Latter, drums, keyboard; Ariana Murray, vocals, bass; Ashod Simonian, guitar; Brian Thornell, drums. Addresses: Record company--Palm Pictures, 76 Ninth Ave., Ste. 1110, New York, NY 10011, phone: (212) 320-3600, fax: (212) 320-3709, website: http://www.palmpictures.com. Website--Earlimart Official Website: http://www.earlimartmusic.com.

Somewhere, somebody first uttered the phrase "Change is good." While it's since become a cliché, the essence of those three little words still hold true, especially when it comes to a band attempting to find their sound. Case in point is Los Angeles pop band Earlimart, whose early records teemed with the raucous punk elements of the Pixies and Sonic Youth. However, once Aaron Espinoza discovered the power of the piano, the band started churning out sophisticated pop that touched on the work of singer/songwriters like Elliott Smith and Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard. Through their vast catalog, Earlimart has proven to be, as the Houston Chronicle called them, "a beacon of hope for the Los Angeles rock scene."

Earlimart started in 1996 as a collaboration between Espinoza and bassist Ariana Murray, who, along with a revolving door of band mates, started crafting distorted nuggets of punk-rock aggression that was most often compared to X and the Pixies. It wasn't until 2000, though, that the band issued their first recorded offering in the form of Filthy Doorways. Released by Devil in the Woods, the album featured songs, such as "Kill Your Parents" and "Heaven," which were chunks of pure indie noise. Online magazine Delusions of Adequacy said, "'Kill Your Parents' is a punk-rock title but not a punk-rock song. It's pop rock in the background with fuzzed-out vocals drawling overtop. And then 'Heaven' is slower and softer with bursts of noise hitting you throughout. This is a very Pixies-ish song with a folky feel to it. 'Dorian Gray' is mellow and morose, with little noises following throughout." However, the album also featured the band experimenting with country music, as Splendidezine.com pointed out. The online zine's Theodore Defosse said, "After my first few spins of this disc, I found myself skipping ahead to the porch songs in the middle." He went on to note that, "It is Filthy Doorways' variety that makes Earlimart stand out from their peers as a truly new voice hoping to take horse, ride horse, and play music, by gummit, play."

That same year, Devil in the Woods released Kingdom of Champions. Splendidezine.com said, "The faster rock songs are far more melodic this time around, with dark, brilliant tracks like 'Dead on the Dancefloor' accurately conveying the tense moments in the life of a punk asshole. They do a great job blending their love for (the Billy Zoom-era) X and the Blasters with Seattle grunge and Minneapolis punk. The lyrics are weathered, the vocals smell of alcohol and the guitars spring madly about, capturing all the emotions that Aaron Espinoza's singing conveys."

After both 2000 releases, however, the band underwent a change of sound that would temper their punk tendencies, taking them down a more melodic road. Of the shift, Espinoza said, "It just seemed like an easy thing to do in the beginning---get behind a distortion pedal and scream a little bit." However, after years were spent on the road and self-recording, the band found solace in the piano. In an interview with the Brownstown Herald, Espinoza said, "The piano definitely screwed things up. In the old days it was like hiding behind the aggression. Not to say loud-distorted rock is not a valid thing, because it is. For me just starting out, and I think this is common for a lot of people, when you're trying to find your voice you end up screaming for a couple of years. Somehow you get the confidence and your voice improves and maybe you want to start singing. That combined with age and shifts in our taste makes you write differently. It's been a natural progression."

This shift in sound was documented on Earlimart's debut EP The Avenues released in 2003 on their new label Palm Pictures (home of Elefant and Moving Units). By this time, Earlimart had also solidified their lineup, with Davey Latter joining on drums and keys and Solon Bixler on guitar. Grandaddy's Jim Fairchild also would join the band on keyboards from time to time, as well as assist Espinoza with production duties at their studio, dubbed "The Ship" (which Espinoza built in the foothills of Eagle Rock, California). With a secure lineup and label, the band then set forth to record their third full-length for Palm Pictures, 2003's Everyone Down Here. Pitchforkmedia.com gave the album a rating of 8.5 out of 10, and praised the band for putting a twist on a formula familiar to fans of indie rock. They went on to say that the reason the album works so well is Espinoza's love of texture. "Aaron Espinoza pays more attention to texture than just about anyone out there twiddling the proverbial knobs. I tend to fall for producers with signature tricks---Jon Brion's glockenspiels and harmonia, Dave Fridmann's unique way with drums, Albini's ability to press the "rec" button---but Espinoza's greatness is subtler. Every instrument on Everyone Down Here sounds warm, yet weird: hearing a simple tremolo on a guitar lick is, somehow, a revelation. Even the tape hiss that haunts the first and last several seconds of each song is somehow rendered pleasant, like a handful of sand oozing between your fingers."

Following an excessive amount of touring with bands like Grandaddy, Denali, Alaska!, and comedian David Cross, Earlimart was gearing up to release another album for Palm Pictures when tragedy struck within the band's tight-knit group of Californian musical peers. In October of 2003, singer/songwriter Elliott Smith was found dead in his home of apparent self-inflicted knife wound to the chest. In the few years prior, Espinoza and Earlimart had struck up a friendship with Smith, who was battling drug and alcohol addiction on and off for most of his adult life. Smith had recorded at The Ship, and was a huge influence on Earlimart's songwriting. Inspired by Smith's passing, Espinoza and Earlimart began crafting their pseudo-tribute to the late songwriter, eventually producing an album called Treble & Tremble, released on Palm Pictures in 2004.

Often debated as either a direct rip-off of Elliott Smith's hushed folk and tempered rock, or as a musical homage to a friend who died too soon, the Jim Fairchild-produced Treble & Tremble received a heavy amount of praise upon its release. Prefixmagazine.com said, "Aside from the obvious comparisons to Smith, Earlimart's music could easily stand on it's own without all that love-letter stuff. Fairchild is a great help; his production fingerprints are discovered on '1st Instant, Last Report,' where the perfect mix of acoustic/electric guitars, piano and strings is augmented by Espinoza's distorted vocals---a trick that Grandaddy has perfected to a tee. It's moments like these where Earlimart shines. And the album has a perfect balance of amorphous softer ballads like 'A Bell and a Whistle' and supercharged Built To Spill rockers like 'Sounds' and 'The Hidden Track.' But if you're uncomfortable with wallowing and commiserating in exhausted guitars with slightly fuzzed-out vocals, steer clear of Treble & Tremble---it runs the gamut as far as sad music about a sad musician." In the album's defense, Espinoza told Staticmultimedia.com that, "On one hand, it's just a record. My personal feelings are on that album and a lot are about Elliott. But it can also work for someone who's never even heard Elliott. It can transcend its origins."

by Ryan Allen

Earlimart's Career

Group formed in Los Angeles, CA, 1996; released debut album on Devil in the Woods Records, 2000; released Everyone Down Here on Palm Pictures, 2003; released Treble & Tremble, 2004.

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