Recently, Justin Brown, one-fourth of the Charlotte-based collective It Looks Sad., declared to a local music magazine that all of the bands’ “best songs are the ones that we don’t try real hard on.” Though his nonchalance could initially be interpreted as somebody committed to the quaint art of trying to prove that he is not trying, two songs into the band’s self-titled EP would indicate otherwise. The EP, which lacks ambition but practically bleeds with earnestness, is a four-song assemblage infused with the guitar parameters of other unflappable lo-fiers like Beach Fossils and DIIV, a comparison that the band itself would attest to. But unlike them and hoards of other bands with similar guitar equipment, It Looks Sad. does not rely solely on the twangy tone of their instrumentation to carry through the meaning of their songs.
This EP is a whole host of things, and most of them positive: emotional, unpretentious, hooky and mostly about sadness. That being said, it is not the sort of record that ends up on year-end lists. It’s not innovative. It’s not about atmosphere, or detail or unconventional song structures intended to render you ineffectual in a fit of disbelief over the mere knowledge of its existence. If anything, it is mostly about lead singer Jimmy Turner communicating to you his feelings in the least complex way possible. Take Fingers (“I’m daydreaming/and your fingers touched my skin”) or even Racoon (“Am I just shadow/or another one you see”).
The vocal rupturing of Turner’s voice, which begs immediate comparison to the close-mic’d howls of Cloud Nothing’s Dylan Baldi, juxtapose quite neatly with It Looks Sad.’s more tranquil guitar tones, and allow for just enough noise to make it all work. Any cleaner and you’d lose the off-the-cuff quality of tracks like Fingers that rely on the erratic vocals to guide the listener. Turner’s vocals, while more subdued for the first three tracks of the album, find a comfortable range in the last song, Ocean, which deceptively enraptures you in head-bopping, summer-soaked guitar loops that are almost immediately drowned out by the surprising intensity of Turner’s howls. It is not a front-running track by any means, but certainly one worth showcasing in a portfolio given that it condenses everything that’s likable about Turner’s vocal capacity: honesty, unpredictability and, most importantly, enjoyability.
The album’s standout, Radical, starts out as a pop-y hit stab soaked in reverb and coated with a fervor more reminiscent of the host of punkish pop acts already signed to Tiny Engines, like Mannequin Pussy and Jowls. But its still works as a perfect track for the band to distinguish its semi-unique sound. At times, the only thing linking their disparate, uniformly excellent songs is the fact that most of them bleed into each other, usually via Turner’s voice. It Looks Sad. is joyously schizophrenic, and it’s clear that It Looks Sad. is a band not deserving of being pinned down.