There’s tremendous beauty within these purposefully flawed pop gems.
Mike Diver 2010-04-20
Records like this make a man realise that he need not have been in love to know what it must sound like. Despicable Dogs is not a title that sings of the quickening of the heart, the fluttering of those proverbial butterflies; but for three minutes and 54 seconds it’s the most perfect aural rendering of that moment when one’s soul drops into his or her stomach that these ears have come across since… I don’t know. It feels that fresh, that new, even though it’s quite evidently the sum of parts relatively recognisable.
Small Black is Josh Kolenik and Ryan Heyner (since expanded to incorporate Juan Pieczanski and Jeff Curtin). They call Long Island home. They have been known to waste away wet weekends in front of the Kevin Costner sci-fi flop Waterworld (there’s evidence in the video for Despicable Dogs - watch it on YouTube). And when they weren’t slumped in front of the box, samplers and keyboards were tinkered with. The results, seven tracks of fuzzy, foggy, fantastic synth-pop-through-a-mangle, are collected here as a debut release that will (probably) not, in no particular order: make the pair stars beyond their state; make them money enough to drop whatever jobs they show up at when necessity calls; or spawn a series of imitators taking the sound into the commercial sphere. It’s too rough, too raucous despite an innate delicacy, for that sort of future. But, then, the future has no place in Small Black’s world – they write for the moment, and it’s this immediacy that ensnares in a single sitting.
It’s not only the opener that moves with a crackling liquidity, all rosy cheeked melancholy, slapping about the sides of one’s innards like the only indigestion you don’t want to remedy. Pleasant Experience is more than just that, a simple beat ensuring their expounding on the absolutely indiscernible shuffles along splendidly; Lady in the Wires ups tempo but retains the blurry fug of lyrical ambiguity, primarily because pronunciation is battered by effects, that sits atop all of these pieces; and Baby Bird Pt. 2 is a squealing, shrieking instrumental one minute, a harmonica glide into a cheery wave farewell the next.
The thickness of the vocals versus the instrumental subtleties comprises a dynamic that might wear some down, ‘less they’re accustomed to comparable fare from Bradford Cox’s various guises, the work of artists like The Russian Futurists and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, and to a lesser extent blogosphere big-shots like Washed Out and Memory Tapes. But should an absolute beginner persevere, they can’t fail to find the tremendous beauty within these purposefully flawed pop gems.