Listening to In Earnest’s self-titled debut EP without a careful ear at first, I was happy to be in the presence of a soothing and well produced set of songs but my thinking didn’t go much further than that. This felt like an enjoyable and pleasant first output but that was all. Then, during one of my many socially distanced walks in the local nature park, I finally found myself putting in the time to listen to it with more focus. I was struck by the things I’d been missing. That soothing tone I had noticed was largely created by the guitar, but it was only when I gave the EP the time it deserved that I realised just how beautiful and integral that guitar tone is to all of these songs. As tracks switch lead vocal between singers Sarah and Thomas, that clipped guitar acts as the anchor and holds it all together. It’s a stunning piece of instrumentation.
But that wasn’t all I’d been missing. There is also a real haunting beauty to both the voices on offer and, in the case of Sarah, this became particularly obvious to me on second song ‘Put Me Under.’ This track, with its gentle indie-folk sound, makes use of Sarah’s voice to portray the darkness and despair that lives within the lyrics.
In Earnest wear their influences on their sleeve, and in the early parts of this song I am reminded heavily of one of my favourite artists; Phoebe Bridgers. In the opening lyrics of ‘Now and then I have a stocktake of my mind/Clear my schedule, burn some cash, take in some facts online/I always say I’ll start working out and cut down on ice cream/It never is enough to stop me binge watching TV’ I see the thing that makes Bridgers’s work so special: an ability to make the mundane meaningful, using every day occurrences to introduce a story of day-to-day struggle.
That captivating guitar tone opens the following song ‘Come Upstairs’ and is joined by Thomas’s strongest vocal performance. Again, we have a song here that seems to be dealing with anxiety and fear. The lyrics here are less subtle, but equally impressive. In the opening verse of ‘Come upstairs my love/I will take you any way you are/I’m ill-prepared and stone-cold scared/The same as you’ we see a switch from what seems like a slightly uninteresting opening line into an immediate change of perspective to something darker and more relatable. I’m a big fan of this song, but if I have one criticism it is that I wish the band would trust in the impact of their delicacy and not feel the need for the dramatic crescendo. It maybe comes from a feeling that the song needs to go somewhere, but this band is at their best when they hold back.
‘The House’ is the best example of them trusting in that delicacy. A simple guitar line, possibly the best storytelling across the piece and, importantly, some gorgeous harmonies. Sarah and Thomas’s vocals work so well together on this track that it does leave you wondering why they don’t use them together on a more regular basis across the EP. I’ve already mentioned Phoebe Bridgers above, but this EP also reminds me of her side project with Conor Oberst at times. In the future, it would be exciting to see them add some straight-up duets to their repertoire.
All that said, the absolute standout of the In Earnest EP for me is a song that is led by Sarah with some backing vocals from Thomas. ‘Fables’ is a stunning song that has me really excited about this band. I have said that I wished they’d held back on the crescendos in another song, but in the case of ‘Fables’ we have a beautiful build throughout that ends with the closest thing to a cacophony on the EP. It works. It is a fantastic track that bodes well for In Earnest and their career. I’ll be following closely.
Words by Fran Slater