Some four years and a Jason Lytle-featuring project later, Aaron Espinoza and Ariana Murray return to Earlimart, ready to follow up 2008’s Hymn and Her. With System Preferences, their seventh full-length to date, the Los Angeles based duo crafts midtempo pop that’s sometimes folky, sometimes dreamy, but always warmly melodic.
Earlimart’s lineup trimmed down to a duo just before their last album, though they simultaneously expanded upon their style by exploring new sonic pastures to accompany their familiar style, a trend they’ve yet to abandon. An electronic undercurrent prevails throughout System Preferences, exemplified both in the duel between sunny acoustics and synth gurgles at the end of “Crestline, CA” and the lush layers of “U&Me”. The sublimely crafted lament of “97 Heart Attack” is easily the strongest track, with unpredictable clatters and zaps churning alongside the strongest vocal back-and-forth between Espinoza and Murray yet.
On their last effort, Murray began to surface more prominently as a vocalist, and this development continues here. Sometimes her dulcet tones take the lead, such as on the textbook reverb painted “10 Years” or the mildly hypnotic haze of “Get Used to the Sound”, but her presence is generally a supporting role. Murray’s harmonic accompaniment brings melodically rich tracks (“Sweater Weather”, “Lovely Mary Ann”) with an extra layer of sweetness, while completely melding with Espinoza to form an eerie third voice (“Over Andover”).
While the styles of Murray and Espinoza work in accord, this pairing brings minimal opportunities for dramatic contrast or even complementation. On System Preferences, Earlimart continues to forgo the big hooks for a subtle, slow-burning impact, but it’s at a pace that does not quite catch up to the increasing speed of familiarity.
Essential Tracks: “97 Heart Attack”, “Shame”