Treble & Tremble
ow and then, I’m forced to label my favorite bands “indie”. Someone will ask me to name a band I listen to and I’ll respond Neutral Milk Hotel, muttering with the slightly hostile hesitancy of someone asked why he’s attracted to a significant other, “I guess they’re, like, kind of folky, really distorted indie rock.” I don’t like to reduce my idols to the “i” word. I don’t want Jeff Mangum’s devastatingly carnal imagery to fall under any category.
I, however, have no compunctions calling Earlimart’s Treble & Tremble “indie”. Certain bands—Pavement, Archers of Loaf, Guided by Voices—embodied the archetypal indie rock sound of the early to mid-90s. Ten years later, bands like Earlimart, Grandaddy and Dios exemplify, if not the current indie sound, then a present stereotype of the increasingly maligned genre.
Treble & Tremble is precious, effete and insubstantial. It buries its pop tendencies under a melancholic lo-fi production. It attempts to hide its lackluster melodies and rudimentary instrumentation by obscuring and diminishing their presence. It represents everything you don’t want your skeptical friends to assume about your favorite “indie” bands.
See “Unintentional Tape Manipulations.” The coy title says it all: Earlimart will not provide the interesting songs we’d like to hear, opting to cover this up in a fashionably post-modern way—“if we admit we’ve got nothing, then how can they criticize us for it?” Over the course of six minutes, Earlimart trudges through a couple distorted chords, brutally maintained and, worse, augmented with an unbearably repetitive harmony that climaxes in an ostentatious, emotionless solo. “Unintentional Tape Manipulations” sounds like it should be filler, but as much as the band seems to write the song off in the title, it’s the longest of the album’s thirteen tracks and thus begs attention.
In effect, Earlimart appears compelled to compromise its talents (which were more clear on last year’s Everyone Down Here), whether by implying—as in the above example—that their songs should not be taken seriously, or by playing into an easy stereotype. You could surmise everything Treble & Tremble entails after hearing a sterile biography like “they’re an indie band from southern California that likes Elliott Smith”.
Unlike Smith, though, Treble & Tremble contains no real emotion, only contrivances to attain an apt sound. This is restrained, mopey tripe that’s dished out as people expect it. The lyrics are reprehensible in their meaninglessness, but they’re so logically fabricated that they rarely emerge above the music. Nonetheless, when Aaron Espinoza declares “all they ever do is talk” or “nothing hurts until it’s gone”, his insouciant monotone betrays his indifference towards his own words. These aren’t feelings. These aren’t observations. They’re glib, self-consciously cynical clichés that suit Treble & Tremble’s languorous etiquette as precisely as a politician’s speeches fit his public role.
Short of lamenting the days when “indie” still denoted passion, innovation or at least a desire to do something one’s own way, it remains that Earlimart’s Treble & Tremble cannot satisfy anyone who values the ideals the term once carried. Earlimart’s latest effort is stiflingly mediocre, serving as depressing evidence that any talented band can smother its merits with a little coyness and a hell of an oppressive atmosphere of faux-melancholia.
Reviewed by: Kareem Estefan
Reviewed on: 2004-10-22