With their label citing bands like Surfer Blood and Dirty Beaches as major influences, new Tiny Engines outfit It Looks Sad. does these groups justice by successfully implementing classic surf rock, guitar pop, and post-punk sounds. The group’s aesthetic then realizes itself when put under frontman Jimmy Turner’s distressed vocals, offering up a listen at once both fresh and familiar. The EP’s short duration, simplicity, and obvious influences, though, temper that strange familiarity, making for a less than memorable experience.
Though the music is fairly driven and upbeat at first listen, the vocals tell a more somber story, resulting in a promising combination of concepts that gives the EP its appeal. First track “Radical” opens with pleasant guitar chords and building drums reminiscent of classic indie pop. It comes as a bit of a surprise, then, when Turner dives into darker post-punk themes, singing of sleeping on his deathbed and contemplating mortality (“And I ask why/ Do we die?”), his words eventually becoming angst-ridden shouts.
Death is just one of many topics Turner touches upon throughout the four tracks; he also sings of love both unrequited and too good to be real, proposes marriage, questions reality, and expresses deep sadness. It’s a lot of emotion packed into 16 minutes, and there isn’t time to really flesh out any of the ideas introduced. Lacking a strong lyrical theme, the tracks are held together instead by the instrumental lines that vary little from song to song. “Fingers”, in particular, drags the EP down. The loping bass line and slow hi-hat of the drums are repetitive, as are the playful lyrics (“Your fingers touch my skin/ I’m daydreaming again”). Closing track “Ocean”, on the other hand, features a more vulnerable Turner taking another playfully emotional line (“I am your ocean”) to a place of loudness that wouldn’t necessarily resonate with the lyric itself. This type of irony, combining the group’s easygoing indie tactics with belching vocals, is where It Looks Sad.’s potential reaches a pinnacle.
The band live up to their name here, channeling a post-punk angst redolent of the group’s “emo” vibe (I’m especially referencing that period after Sad in the band name). The moniker can be used not only to describe the feeling of their music, but the quality, too. Some innovation brings fresh promise, yet as a whole, the EP falls short of any true novelty. The final product is something that would be exciting and worthy of checking out live, but ultimately momentarily exciting.
Essential Tracks: “Radical”, “Ocean”