in earnest – ‘in earnest’ | EP Review

in earnest band 2020

in earnest deliver first time on self-titled debut EP

I watched Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing on the telly last week and Paul Whitehouse was talking about how he finds happy memories painful. I thought to myself: You’re 24, why do you keep watching fishing programmes about middle aged men? And then I thought: you are right, Paul. Nostalgia is conflicting. I’ve always struggled with the idea that some of the best times are behind you.

So it was kind of comforting to hear the same idea expressed so eloquently by Southend on Sea’s in earnest in their brilliant self-titled EP. Led by front-couple Sarah and Thomas, the record focuses mainly on mental health as a central theme, with melodic indie-folk instrumentation illuminating melancholy, but often hopeful, lyrics.

In ‘29’, Thomas reflects on his life leading up until here, now, his 29th birthday. Folk-style finger-picking and Thomas’ muted, Elliott Smith-esque vocal takes us drifting through a photo album of memories, reflecting on joy, angst and childhood heroes:

Recurring visions in my sleep, tricycles and curbs of frustration
I heard Chester screaming loud, arms aflame and ready to break

A homage to the late great Chester Bennington is heart-wrenching but delicately expressed. Violins flutter as the verses build then level out into gorgeous harmony in the chorus, a beautiful representation of unstable thought patterns and emotional absolution,

There’s something in the cadence of the music and syntax of the lyrics that is reminiscent of traditional English, Scottish and Irish folk music. They could almost be singing about loved ones lost at sea. In some way, I suppose they are; ‘29’ reflects upon memories that are cast away, but remain cherished.

In ‘put me under we hear Sarah’s ethereal vocal as she muses on the mundane, often-overlooked nature of mental turmoil. The final build up features a stunning hook and soaring harmonies, leading us beautifully into the gentle angst of ‘come upstairs’, backed by serene guitar and violin.

Fables’ crept up on me. This is the standout track of the EP, leaning into a more traditional folk style in terms of melody and lyrics. Sarah’s voice is celestial; it packs a huge punch emotionally but is unshakeable. The most simple lines are the most breathtaking, leading into a harmonious chorus:

“I know you want to float, but soon we’ll be gravedigging
Why are we waiting?

By now, you know that in earnest are masters of rounding off quiet tracks with a giant, rapturous wall of sound. In ‘Fables’, the final chorus escalates as it whirls and crashes out of focus, a gorgeous pay-off to a truly masterful song. 

We move from the coming-of-age hope and pain of ‘in between’ into final track ‘the house’, which focuses on spaces and people as vehicles of memory. It begins quietly, a gentle acoustic guitar and Thomas’ vocal, painting a picture of a claustrophobic psychological and physical space. We wander like a ghost from scene to scene. There’s an intimate, whispering quality to the vocals of both front-people that builds tension in a tentative and delicate space. This then expands into another gorgeous, hugely cathartic chorus sounding off the end of the album: ‘You can’t take a hope that will not die.’ It’s a beautiful, therapeutic, and uplifting end to a brilliant first EP that doesn’t allow despair to have the final word.

Words by Ellen Mcnally

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