Timmy CurranWord of Mouth(Adeline)*3.5*Goes well with: Jack Johnson, Rob Machado, Dave Matthews
Timmy Curran is an amazing surfer—the first to ever complete an aerial 360-degree flip—a spokesman for the admirable eco-nonprofit Surfrider Foundation and, by all accounts, a helluva nice guy. But for someone so accustomed to riding the edge, Curran plays it excruciatingly safe on Word of Mouth.
The album is 11 tracks of mostly acoustic soft rock and moody, mid-tempo pop. If you can imagine the already extremely mellow Jack Johnson somehow further flattened and devoid of his most interesting moments, you can grasp the utterly underwhelming nature of Curran's exercise in irrelevance.
Awkward refrains, goofy simplicity and faux-noir atmospherics dog even the best of these droning ditties, but especially the eco-warrior's whine “Comatose” and the sincere (but trite) breakup mope “Moving On.” Sand, a bonfire and copious amounts of tequila might help the listener, but even then, Curran's squeaky-clean soul-singing needs some mussing up to make things interesting. It's not horrible songwriting, but it's as close as a truly likable guy can get to it. —Will K. ShillingTimmy Curan plays Tuesday, July 22, at Lou's Records.
EarlimartHymn and Her(Majordomo)*7.0*
Goes well with: The Carpenters, Sonic Youth, Wilco, Elliot Smith
Never judge a shoegazer by his scuffed Converse and clichéd influences. The 12 relatively unassuming tunes on Earlimart's latest album are more complex than they appear. They're skeletal and melancholy, sure, but also smartly parsed and inspired.
The deceptive design of Hymn and Her allows these seemingly simple compositions to float shyly—almost harmlessly—in the air, but the foundation of the songs is built on moody folk harmonies and atypical instrumentation. The mostly mid-tempo balladry often evokes a smarmy Wilco or nuanced Elliott Smith and the mercilessly passive-aggressive theme of “God Loves You the Best” (“You're drunk on the couch with your feet in the clouds”) shares its harsh (self-) loathing with shuffling snares, stirring strings, tinkling keys and groaning church organs.
Aaron Espinoza (Hymn, er, him) usually sings lead while Arianna Murray (Her) harmonizes a half-step to the rear, but “Time for Yourself” and “Town Where You Belong” let the vocals intertwine more closely. When Murray takes the lead on “Cigarettes and Kerosene,” she evokes an ethereal dive-bar diva. It's a positive progression but, lest Earlimart stray too far afield, Murray's other starring turn (on the closer “Tell Me,” which hardly does her throaty lilt justice) brings the soaring heights of the album back to earth. —Will K. ShillingEarlimart plays Thursday, July 17, at The Casbah.
Goes well with: Dust Brothers, Greyboy All-Stars, Soulive, RJD2
Like a supernova, the various fragments of the unfortunately named “jam band” scene have split into different—and mostly promising—directions during the past decade. Santa Cruz-bred collective STS9 (aka Sound Tribe Sector 9), for instance, has taken to fusing the live chops of proto-breakbeat masters like The Meters with auteur-minded, electro-clashers like Brian Eno and Talking Heads.
Best known for their marathon shows, the group's punishing devotion to live performances has also helped expand the band's studio sound since 2005's Artifact. Endlessly overlapping ideas morph with subtly complex rhythms on “Peaceblaster '68” and “Peaceblaster '08,” evoking the synth-laden doom of The Terminator musical score and the swagger of James Brown's “Cold Sweat.” And it only gets weirder—and better—after that. Endlessly eclectic elements—electronica, soul, jazz and funk—speed by at a dizzying pace. But it's all finely tuned with hook-heavy warmth and familiar redundancy that will take you back to the future faster than Doc Brown's flying Delorean. —Will K. Shilling