There’s a lot of great music coming out of Essex at the moment. Home of perhaps the country’s most exciting DIY label, Cool Thing Records, with its roster of incredible acts (including Asylums, BLAB, and Beckie Margaret) the county is also responsible for artists such as the great Sam Duckworth (AKA get cape), Nothing But Thieves, These New Puritans, and The Horrors. The list could go on and on and on. Anyway, the point I’m labouring towards is that Southend-on-Sea’s in earnest belong right in the thick of it.
Formed in 2019 with the intention of creating meaningful and unflinchingly honest music covering difficult topics such as mental illness, the band (Sarah Holburn, Thomas Eatherton, and Toby Shaer) have released three singles this year in the lead up to this, their eponymous six-track debut EP. Recorded in a converted barn using mobile studio equipment, the band largely recorded live takes, implementing minimal editing and forgoing the use of autotune. This is reflected in the spacious, organic feel of the release – built on a sonic palette heavy on acoustic and electric guitar, subtle tasteful synths, strings, and tight group harmonies.
The EP opens with the slow burning ’29’, and it’s the perfect introduction to the band’s beguiling mix of strong lyrical imagery and sturdy songwriting. Written on Eatherton’s 29th birthday, the song is essentially a series of moving snapshots of childhood memories set against the mundanity of the life that comes after it. One of the interesting things about in earnest is that just when you think you know where a melody or progression is going, songs seem to twist and squirm away from grasp. Take the second track, ‘Put Me Under‘, for example. What begins as a fairly standard progression is soon undercut by a distinctly unusual melodic twist. Built on a folky acoustic guitar and Holburn’s ethereal double-tracked vocals, it’s another slowly-building melancholic gem. ‘Come Upstairs‘ follows, and develops from an opening of slowly moving arpeggios into the kind of brooding, emotive track that would’ve fit nicely on to the soundtrack of the early-00s teen drama, The O.C.
The final three tracks are equally impressive. ‘Fables’ is an ethereal highlight that begins with just Holburn’s vocal and minimal synth, before mutating into an indie folk beast that seems to work itself into a frenzy before imploding. It’s almost as if the harmonies in the final third keep stacking up until the song just can’t take any more. ‘In Between’ is a little more straightforward. Pushed along by tambourine, it’s kind of like Ed Sheeran singing Elliott Smith (though not as odd as that sounds) and it leads nicely into the closing ‘The House’. Hands down the slowest and the most stripped-back track, Eatherton’s vocal is like a confessional. The lack of reverb combined with the closeness of the guitar give a real presence that stands out from the previous five songs. I particularly love the sense of space in the mix, and the lo-fi synth that steals the show towards the end. The whole thing is wonderful.
in earnest are an interesting prospect. For a debut, this EP certainly sets the bar high. The songwriting is consistently strong, with a real flair to the lyrics in particular. However, while I personally am a fan of the relatively sedate pace, I could certainly see how some might find the lack of variation between tracks in terms of mood and tempo a drawback. It must also be said that the two instances where percussion can be heard are welcome additions. I get it though: in earnest are all about honesty and integrity, and there’s bucket loads of both on show here. I love this and I think a lot of you reading might just love it too.