In his three-year quasi-hiatus from It Looks Sad., singer/songwriter Jimmy Turner spent a lot of time reshaping his approach to songwriting. Whereas It Looks Sad.’s 2015 single Kaiju contains a bone-baring alt-emo, the band’s debut full-length, Sky Lake, is more humid and thick with reverb, modulation, and electronica. This new sound, complemented with lyrics abundant in abstraction and metaphor, fleshes out a vignetted, sweet dreamscape.
At the album’s entrance, “Shave” wraps the listener’s shoulders in mellow, electronic drums and guides them towards Turner’s misty, auto-tuned vocals. The album then comes into sharper focus with the dancier, full band performance on “Bike.” The shift between these two writing styles undulates at the core of Sky Lake, setting a cozy pacing for the album.
Some of the most interesting tracks on Sky Lake fully embrace a synth-rich, lo-fi sound. With gentle melodies in soft focus, hazily trimmed with electronica and modulation, tracks like “Light,” “Moria,” and “Seaweed” feel like trippy, chromatic aberrations in sound.
There are undoubtedly elements of Kaiju still present in Sky Lake. However, while songs like “Palme” and “Pig” pay homage to the driving, dancy cadence of their predecessors, their instrumentation is much more advanced. A peppering of synth, tambourine, and (what sounds like) marimba provide a truly rewarding listening experience. These sonic choices also do a good job of gluing together the album as a cohesive piece of art.
That said, while the album melds well instrumentally, the crux of this tonal blend lies somewhere in Turner’s vocals. On songs like “Sisters” or “Bike,” when the vocals sit closest to the front of the mix, they seem to lose a bit of their magic.
It’s not that Turner’s performances are flawed or unenjoyable on these tracks, per sey; they’re still quite entertaining. It’s just that these songs don’t stand out from songs by similar artists. There’s simply something mystical about sonic exploration in vocal engineering that elevates certain songs on Sky Lake above others.
Lyrically, Turner compliments his instrumentation very well. There’s an ethereal beauty in abstractions like “I saw you standing on that rune / & I told you I would jump for you / & I hope that I can float right through” on “Sisters,” or “I wish you would show me the shape of your light / When you are walking, floating by” in “Light.” These lines, standing somewhere on the border of consciousness and sleep, seem to quietly pine for bliss. They find universality in their openness to interpretation.
Three years yielded a musical evolution for It Looks Sad. that’s surely worth a listen. This 15-track debut on Tiny Engines provides a calming soundtrack for introspective days. Even the less engrossing portions of Sky Lake melt into the greater body of the album, making for a good, full playthrough on a day stuck indoors or an overcast drive. Listen to Sky Lake long enough and you might find yourself swirling through the bokeh of unfocused eyes and pleasant daydreams.