Words: James Frostick

Canberra singer and songwriter Shoeb Ahmad is offering fans a new piece of music in the form of ‘Significant Looks’ – an ambient cover of a track originally crafted by Sydney trio Clean Shirt. ‘Significant Looks’ is a track that is weighed down with undeniable melancholy and sadness, but here it is given proper delicate treatment and is imbued with a softness that is engrossing and undeniably powerful.

Cover songs are tricky things. It’s hard to nail a cover that does justice to the original work but adds enough newness that it stands alone. Recording a cover is the ultimate sign of respect between musicians, but there’s a bit of unspeakable pressure to do it right. In this instance, Shoeb Ahmad’s interpretation of Clean Shirt’sSignificant Looks’ ticks all of the appropriate boxes – it pays suitable homage to the source material while not cribbing it completely, offering up a unique interpretation that adds substance.

In terms of the sonic differentiation, Clean Shirt’s version is more upbeat in the sense that it offers a rhythm to tap along to, but despite its inherently poppy nature it is still a subdued track with a dispirited bent. Shoeb Ahmad’s rendition enhances the moroseness, stripping it back to its skeletal form before weaving dream-like strands of electronic instrumentation between the bones. This cover rewards patience, but don’t think I’m calling it boring. Once Shoeb starts singing, everything else melts away – it’s hypnotic in nature and occupies the brain for its entire six-minute duration.

At its core, ‘Significant Looks’ is a heartbreaking contemplation of endings, an insightful glimpse into the brain in the wake of life-altering revelations. It’s about things falling apart – communication chiefly . In a sense, it doesn’t linger on the actual deterioration of a relationship much beyond the opening (“One thing I didn’t understand at the start / Was how it was gonna feel when I fell apart / How was I to know, when it’s time to go”), but rather the breakdown of communication and between two people and the failure to connect despite seeing the signs (“How long did you know? How long did I know? How long did you know I knew? How long did we let it go?”). The track gives enough for one to get a sense of what’s occurring, but also leaves enough gaps for us to determine the severity of what is at stake.

At the end of the day, both versions of ‘Significant Looks’ offer something different. While both are subdued, they present sadness in equally beautiful ways. Shoeb Ahmad’s signature ambience creates a pool ripe for immersion, a departure from the dance-pop aesthetic Shoeb is known for, but a worthy addition to the artist’s repertoire.

Shoeb Ahmad’s track ‘silhouette’ is also featured on the new LISTEN compilation, which you should really check out in its entirety. Do so here.

Catch Shoeb Ahmad on tour at the following dates:

Friday 23 MarchFresh Blood @ Vic On The Park, Sydney w/ Loose Fit
Saturday 31 MarchTransit Bar, Canberra w/ Clean Shirt + Dog Name
Tuesday 10 AprilLISTEN 3 compilation launch @ Howler, Melbourne w/ Slag Queens, Lalic + Classic


Banner image: Anna Mayberry