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RECORD RACK

Ruminating on a crazy little thing called love

August 19, 2007

Earlimart

"Mentor Tormentor"

(Majordomo Records)

* * *

"Would it be fair to say that you're in love with love?" So asks Earlimart's Ariana Murray on "Happy Alone," the lead single from the L.A. group's latest collection. With its bone-dry wit and smooth piano melody, the tune recalls Aimee Mann's acidic pop balladry and, though Murray's not the principal songwriter, perfectly encapsulates the love-stinks/love-rules vacillations of "Mentor Tormentor."

Picking up where 2004's "Treble & Tremble" left off, Murray and co-founder Aaron Espinoza celebrate romance in tracks such as "Answers and Questions," but more affecting are such ruminations on vulnerability and heartbreak as the stark, propulsive "Fakey Fake" and the electro-torchy "Never Mind the Phone Calls." The music reinforces the emotional confliction, as Earlimart blends epic pop flourishes à la ELO and latter-day Beatles with the introverted narco-folk of the Velvet Underground. Sweeping keyboards conjure a movie-soundtrack feel, but Espinoza's drowsy vocals and spare instrumentation keep things intimate, even claustrophobic at times.

His singing style can feel somnambulant, but even that often works in counterpoint to the sharpness of something like "Everybody Knows Everybody," which wryly rues the difficulties of clandestine revenge in a world grown too small, and "Don't Think About Me," a plaintive, strings-suffused breakup lament that could be an admonishment or a plea. And the underground gospel of "Cold Cold Heaven" ends this often dreamily drifting work on a rousing, weirdly uplifting note.

-- Natalie Nichols

Albums are rated on a scale of four stars (excellent), three stars (good), two stars (fair) and one star (poor). Albums reviewed have been released except as indicated.

cutline>##ca-rack19#jmqpwbkn#MMLDS2U### Ariana Murray

and Aaron Espinoza of Earlimart.

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