Back in the mid-'90s, when Earlimart opened for business, the Los Angeles band, which is currently touring with Office, specialized in the usual punk-rock products. Since then, the merchandise has undergone substantial changes: The group's membership is down to two, Aaron Espinoza and Ariana Murray, and while the tracks that make up Mentor Tormentor, their latest release on the Major Domo imprint, feature a fuzzy guitar lick or two, the disc as a whole tends toward sonic subtlety. But if the hooks are smooth, not barbed, the lyrics are just the opposite, displaying an emotional aggression that's in keeping with the combo's roots. Although "Just Because" sports an engaging backdrop and harmonically pleasing ooooh-oooohs, the words Espinoza caresses include couplets such as "One more smack in the mouth/Learn what fear is all about." Those are punky sentiments. They just don't sound that way.


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