EARLIMART: Mentor Tormentor [Majordomo]

Long saddled with expectations of becoming L.A.’s next big export, Aaron Espinoza and Co. have earned plenty of acclaim, most notably with 2004’s lush, Elliott Smith-dedicated Treble & Tremble. But so far, Earlimart hasn’t lived up to its considerable promise or delivered an album filled end-to-end with great songs instead of five terrific tracks and a remainder of tasteful, often unmemorable guitar pop. Three years and a new label later, the 15-track Mentor Tormentor may be Earlimart’s best album. But it still falls short of greatness, hamstrung by songwriting and production moves that have clearly become the band’s comfort zone. Not that this is always a bad thing. “Answers And Ques-tions” hits every note in the Earlimart playbook: Soaring synth washes, airy electronics-dusted production and Espinoza’s sighing vocals carry a chorus as broad and beautiful as a sunset. But unexpected moments—keyboardist Ariana Murray’s Aimee Mann-esque turn on “Happy Alone,” Espinoza snarling through the fuzzed-out “Everybody Knows Everybody” and the choir and handclaps backing “Cold Cold Heaven”—overshadow the rest of the album with an energy Earlimart seems so maddeningly reluctant to tap. Such flashes feel like opening a window in a stuffy room, only to slam it shut. [www.majordomorecords.com]

—Chris Barton