AM-radio classics help Earlimart overcome block

Despite appearances to the contrary, Earlimart never broke up. The long-running Los Angeles band which rose through the ranks of the same Silver Lake music scene that birthed the careers of Elliott Smith and Silversun Pickups just went quiet for a while, and not necessarily by choice. After touring behind 2004's Treble & Tremble, the group found itself set free by its label, Palm Pictures, which singer Aaron Espinoza alleges never promoted the record properly anyway.

"The band was always happening, we were just in a state of flux, I guess. We were a little directionless," the frontman admits, reached at home via telephone. "Sometimes it feels good to know you have a home and you have a schedule, like the next album comes out at this time”¦and we didn't really have it after Treble. It put us in a bit of a tailspin, figuring out where we were going to put a record out, businesswise, and we had some band members leaving, which was a drag."

Espinoza suffered a crippling bout of writer's block for several months, but with encouragement from Ariana Murray, his only remaining bandmate, he eventually got back to work in earnest. As for getting its music out into the world, Earlimart solved that by starting its own label, Majordomo Records, in association with Shout! Factory, a company better known for its catalogue reissues and classic-television DVD releases.

The first fruit of this partnership is Earlimart's new album, Mentor Tormentor, 15 tracks of melodic, string-laced pop that couldn't be further removed from the group's earliest recordings, which came across as fuzzed-out Pixies homages. As the dichotomy of the title suggests, the record examines the double-edged sword of love, taking a somewhat jaundiced look at how those in whom we invest the most can end up hurting us the worst. "I guess I'm never really inspired to write songs when I'm happy," Espinoza says. "You know, like a perfect day with your girl, making some eggs in the morning I don't want to write songs about that, although I want that all the time. The songs generally come out when things are a little iffy here and there."

The rainy-Sunday melancholy and reverb-tinted harmonies of "Happy Alone" and "Gonna Break Into Your Heart" wouldn't have sounded out of place on a staticky AM radio alongside such '70s staples as ELO, 10cc, and the Carpenters. Espinoza acknowledges that he and Murray were indeed listening to a lot of classic pop when crafting the songs that made it onto Mentor Tormentor. On the other hand, he insists that, whatever its influences, Earlimart can't help but sound like Earlimart.

"We just covered this R.E.M. song called 'Drive' for a tribute to the album Automatic for the People that's coming out," he says. "We did the first song on there. We almost did it note for note. We didn't try to throw our own spin on it like, 'Here we go I'm gonna mutilate this song' or whatever.”¦And then it comes out, and it sounds like us doing 'Drive', you know what I mean?"

Earlimart plays the Pit Pub on Saturday (September 29).