A succinct and sumptuous debut LP from the rising Brooklyn quartet.
Luke Slater 2010-10-13
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.
The album's brevity would appear to be a carefully considered aspect. Not running to much more than the EP's 27 minutes, it doesn't wear you down with endless extended jams and diversions. While many have been tempted to try for expansion on their debuts, Small Black keep on message throughout, landing their wares somewhere between M83 in a summer haze and a less hefty but still beat-inclined Toro y Moi.
Singer Josh Kolenik's woven melodies are unmistakable in their mistakability. Deliberately nondescript, they fuse with the various parts of high and low register accompaniment, using the reverberating drums as their glue. Occasionally they simply fizzle away in the background, but the times they burst out beyond that are the most glorious, the greatest example of this being the woozy fairground ride that is Photojournalist. Dynamics are not key, and nor are they exploited – the band prefers to keep the levels of intensity constantly, but not strenuously, high. Little respite is offered and Search Party acts as one prolonged chorus with passages marginally more dazzling than others but at all times the modest side of garish.
Although there is much which doesn't automatically burn itself to the cerebral cortex, the standout sections are not found rooted in melody but in the less obvious aspects, like the siren-styled synth motifs of Goons. These songs could be the dream sequences to 80s films which were never made. Indeed, album finisher Invisible Grid is New Chain's closing credits, demonstrating the approach of the previous nine chunks in one bite. And they are chunks you will want to sample again and again.