Returning with their 7th album System Preferences is L.A. singer-songwriter duo Earlimart, who remind us of the more forgotten palettes of indie rock, particularly the blander ones.
On many levels, Earlimart keeps much in common with another California singer-songwriter project: Sun Kil Moon. Both artists hold nearly the same number of releases, have experienced dramatic highs and lows in their careers, performance ethic and personal lives. Sun Kil Moon‘s release this year Among the Leaves rang close to System Preferences, both being dull roars from aged careers that have sucked the marrow from their gifted bones.
With the death of Elliott Smith (a close friend of Earlimart members Aaron Espinoza and Ariana Murray) nearly ten years ago, a heavy emotional toll forced Earlimart to an intrinsic reform in aesthetic and creative direction. Following from their 2004 honorary release Treble & Tremble for Elliott, much of Earlimart‘s sonic substance began to wane thin. Call it personal troubles taking too much precedent, the trouble came with how increasingly insipid their ideas grew by their lack of risk-taking. History has followed up to System Preferences and holds responsible for its deeply lacking lyricism, forgettable premise and unimpressive musicianship.
On nearly most of System Preferences, we’re caught in a jungle of momentum-less pop tracks featuring some of the most dismal lyrics heard all year. The terrifically vapid opener “U&Me” sets us up for something a local bedroom-pop act who exclusively put their music out on cassette would create. “I saw myself as someone else / thousands of miles / from you and me”, the list of shoddy lyrics could span the rest of this review and the point could be made. System Preferences continually plays out more soporific without producing any of the cathartic qualities of what make slow-burner album resonating. We get brief shots of other genres like doo-wop and alt-rock that just fade away before there’s a chance to make a proper impression. Moments like “97 Heart Attack” and “Lovely Mary Ann”, we see Espinoza emulate his Ben Gibbard/Elliott Smith vocal similarities to breath life into his songs, with varying results. We see Earlimart break a shade of its comfort zone on System Preferences with one of the closing tracks, “Internet Summer”: a fuzzy, failed lyrical experiment based on a topical post-modern take of a virtual world slowly infecting our natural surroundings. If there’s anything keeping System Preferences an innocuous (albeit, prosaic) record, it’s the on-point production quality which keeps all of Earlimart‘s lo-fi tendencies in check and tidy.
It may seem harsh for a record that doesn’t offend much, one that really only disappoints with inhibition, but System Preferences reminds us of how not everything is pure gold in the vastness of the indie rock desert. Instead of coming into fruition within its own playtime, it serves on a whole to accentuate the lifespan of two sincere musicians; pointing out emotional trials and tribulations from the past and hope to better serve retribution for future efforts.