don't have to know all the trivia surrounding Earlimart to intuit what Treble & Tremble
is about. This time out, the So. Cal band delivers a gorgeous love note to the late Elliott Smith. The cover art alone is an homage -- a simple sketch that suggests love, friendship, tears, holiness and a goodbye, its message underlined by Smith's representative "xo"s. And then there's album opener "Hold On Slow Down", which will be enough to bring Smith's legions of fans to tears...again. Over haunting piano chords, songwriter Aaron Espinoza speaks directly to Smith, his message a loving farewell that seems to cross the barriers of time and death. "Hold on, you might be perfect," Espinoza pleads before moving on to the next stage: "Well, I miss you my friend / Will I see your face again? /Will I see you again? / And will you be smiling then?" You don't have to know that Espinoza and Smith were friends. You don't even have to see the album dedication on the last page of the insert ("Treble & Tremble
is dedicated to our friend Elliott Smith"); in every word and every chord, the album is for him.
Still, marking Treble & Tremble as an album purely for Elliott Smith fans would be a mistake. Even without context, it's one of the best and most moving albums of the year. Bathed in warm melodies and sweet crescendos, it;s the kind of record that grows on you with each spin, yielding a new favorite song with passing days. Your first favorite might be "Broke the Furniture"; its perfect slide guitar hook and Espinoza's gentle vocals make it capable of sustaining repeated listens in the double and triple digits. After you've accustomed yourself to the gentle textures of one song, though, more wonders await. In short, Treble & Tremble is anything but a hit-or-miss record. From start to finish, from sparse piano ballads to sunny California pop, Earlimart have produced an unfailingly satisfying album.
Mood has much to do with Treble & Tremble's greatness. Espinoza has acknowledged that the record is fundamentally about love, and that intention comes across in eloquent soft-focus. Amid the rich orchestral melodies of the album's final song, "It's OK to Think About Ending", Espinoza counsels, "take care of your heart". For an album about saying goodbye to a loved one -- about recognizing with aching intensity how precious are our lives and hearts --it's an appropriate close.
Treble & Tremble is a must-have for anyone who shed a tear at Elliott Smith's untimely demise; it's just the kind of loving memorial his life and songs required, and Earlimart deserves thanks for that. However, to the band's credit, the album also transcends its memorial status. It might just as well have been dedicated to anyone who's loved and lost...and loved again.