Release Date: Oct 25, 2010
Record label: Jagjaguwar
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Electronic
Remember that scene in the first Wayne's World movie, when Wayne and Garth are able to travel the world with a little help from the magic of green screen? "Imagine being able to be magically whisked away to... Delaware... I'm in Delaware." Well it's that same locale that hypnogogic Brooklyn indie poppers Small Black traveled to get started on their debut LP, New Chain.
As both Washed Out’s support and backing band this past spring, Small Black proved a pleasant experience, laying down enough solid beats and synth-drone from its excellent debut EP to awaken even the terminally zoned-out. And, yes, this restless long-player fidgets with essentially the same swoon-worthy ingredients, but it’s largely an overly complicated and wearisome listen that finds too comfortable a spot to settle itself in...and stays there (“Photojournalist”). Where’s the NoDoz? Chillwave may have officially become too chill, bros.
Are guitars outdated? No, they’re not. Everyone still loves guitars, but stay with me, here. The ‘00s saw new wave revivalism take on epic proportions in indie music, with bands employing the sound of the Factory Records’ scene and their offspring to varying degrees (and, it must be said, to wildly varying degrees of success). Synths and programmed beats were washed away by the guitar gods of the ‘90s—Pavement, Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, Radiohead.
When Brooklyn four-piece Small Black released their self-titled EP in April, it felt like unearthing a dusty cassette of strange Casio pop songs recorded in some indistinct parallel universe. So now, just six months on, the resplendent glossiness of debut full-length New Chain feels like a quantum leap in their development. But even with the band sacrificing a measure of their EP’s peculiar charm by becoming fully-fledged exponents of the subgenre du jour – chillwave – New Chain still reveals them to be a rather special proposition.
Out of all the bands labeled as "chillwave," Small Black's inclusion in the subgenre always seemed more like the product of journalistic convenience than similarity. The stylistic commonality between the likes of Neon Indian, Toro y Moi and Washed Out seem strong enough to merit grouping, but Small Black is guiltier of a very hazy, shimmery pop that's less obviously danceable and less sample driven than the work of those other acts. It would seem more accurate to describe Small Black as a bunch of dudes who makes pop jams with a decidedly chill bent to them.
We all want to be happy, and who can blame us. We all want to greet every morning with a long, luxurious inhale, our eyes closed as we slightly arch our backs facing the sun and push our hands out to the sides, lift them over our heads, and relax to a more normal posture — and to have each day live up to that greeting. But if you’re any kind of artistic type or thinking person — whether that means actually putting ink to paper, aimlessly dreaming, or just spending a bit too much time down at the pub talking something just this side of bullshit with your overeducated and underemployed friends — you’re likely to think of people who actually match that allergy-medicine-commercial vision of lasting, untroubled happiness as either a myth, or as really effectively but only ever temporarily deluded.
It’s a cliché to say that a band’s early work, when its music is in its roughest, rawest state, is best -- but in Small Black’s case, it’s true. The group’s self-titled EP fused longing, noise, and melody into a handful of exquisite lo-fi pop songs that fit into the chillwave trend, as well as a larger indie tradition of bedroom maestros insulating their heartbreak with homespun sounds. On New Chain, the band trades the static and hiss of cheap recording equipment for a much cleaner sound; the haze around Josh Kolenik's voice comes from dense electronic swirls instead of signal overload.
A succinct and sumptuous debut LP from the rising Brooklyn quartet. Luke Slater 2010 It is not hard to see the appeal of Small Black, especially at such a time as now, when acts who covet the warm, fuzzy and spacey – usually together as equals – have risen to prominence, sparking a lorry-load of superfluous tags and several more convoys’ worth of artists to fill these spaces, ranging from the derivative to the innovative. With the release of their debut EP earlier this year, this New York quartet slotted firmly in the latter of those categories and they continue to do so with their first full-length offering, New Chain.