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In Earnest - Reasons to Stay Alive

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 16 / 11 / 2021

In Earnest - Reasons to Stay Alive
Label: In Earnest
Format: Download


Second EP from Southend On Sea trio In Earnest, a perfect soundscape coupled with lyrics conveying how so many are suffering right now and which proves to be an essential listen.

The second EP from Southend On Sea trio In Earnest follows on from their double A-side single from earlier this year although it’s the first set of songs this writer has heard from the band. Having heard that the six tracks featured on the EP tackle despair, suicidal thoughts, gratitude and the climate crisis, and with a strong possibility therefore that the title of the EP was taken from the book by Matt Haig (and an album also titled ‘Reasons To Stay Alive’ Haig made with Andy Burrows) which deals with depression), it looked like the listener was in for a somewhat bleak experience. But as the old saying goes, never judge a book by its cover, or jump to conclusions ; this set of songs, six tracks merged into one 22 minute cycle is one of the most affecting and beautiful pieces of music you are likely to hear not just this year but any year. The trio is made up of Tom Eatherton, Sarah Holburn and Toby Shaer. They share vocal duties and all contribute musically; electric and acoustic guitars, synthesizers, piano, violin, mandolin, flute and even the guizouki are the instruments the trio utilize to create soundscapes behind their emotional lyrics. The EP was recorded, produced and mixed by Peter Waterman of Longcroft Recording. Already a respected producer around these parts due to his work with Hattie Briggs, this set marks a new level in the producer's work. Waterman added a warm, woody vibe to the songs of Hattie Briggs and literally brought her folk-inspired songs to life; here Waterman and the band cover much more ground. The suite of songs combine the folk, indie and progressive genres seamlessly. The very first words you hear are “I really believe I should have died last year, missed the Christmas lights, missed December cheer” before covering the simple but all so important things in life that the vocalist (in this case Sarah Holburn and oh what a voice, so emotive) would have missed had that happened. “The taste of morning tea…the unworn jeans laying on the bed, seeing my mother’s pain, watching my old dog die” but also “the dog walks in sunshine…a couple of nights in NYC”. The eerie synth sounds that underpin those lyrics merely add to the sadness of the piece. Quite simply, it’s a piece of art. Beautifully produced and performed it can’t fail to touch the listener. There’s beauty in that bleakness and we all need those ‘Days In Between’ of the title. The electric guitar that suddenly opens the next piece, ‘I Feel Alone Even If I’m Not’ stirs the listener out of the trance that the opening track has put you in, the male vocal also coming as a surprise. It’s another affecting piece, beautiful harmonies, strings and the fusion of voices rising on “to feel nothing, to feel something” is just perfect. An instrumental piece follows, ‘Comforts Of Home’, led by Shaer’s violin feels just that, conjuring up images of sitting by an open fire during a chilly winter’s evening and for once feeling that all is well, giving hope just at the right time. ‘Humans’ is the trio’s comment on the climate crisis. Another emotive vocal performance from Holburn, bringing to mind both Phoebe Bridgers and Harriet Wheeler and again the soundscape behind the truthful and heartfelt lyrics conveys as much as Holburn’s words can. As much as Holburn’s vocals are an essential part of getting the message across on this EP, the male vocals (Eatherton?) on ‘Welcome To Hope County’ are outstanding. Once again, the combination of those emotive vocals, electric guitars and strings creates such a beautiful soundscape it’s impossible not to be moved by the song. The closing lines “my head is in my hands again, keep your tether by your side, there are reasons to stay alive” gives hope during those dark times and are performed beautifully. The closing ‘Hand Are Tied” is a piano ballad featuring Holburn’s vocals. With electric guitar floating in and out the last verse is beyond moving. “my friend said I’ll be okay, turns out they were wrong, I’m taking my pills, doing my time, pour my heart out in a song, the only thing I know is I don’t think I can go on” as that lone guitar appears which carries on the message before a melee of sound which you imagine is what the inside of Holburn’s head feels like at that given moment; it’s a masterstroke and a fitting end to the EP. I make no excuses for quoting so many lyrics here. They really deserve full exposure and will connect with so many people but even so they are only half the story; the instrumentation which compliments the lyrics is stunning, the soundscapes created reinforce those words and the production is simply first-class. This is an important set of songs and one that deserves to be heard, especially right now.

Track Listing:-
1 the days in between
2 i feel alone even if i'm not
3 comforts of home
4 humans
5 welcome to hope county
6 hands are tied

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