Friday, July 23, 2010

Indy Rock Reveiws: Small Black

Small Black, Big <3
By Josh Ginsberg

Small Black is probably the first band I’ve liked from Long Island that I have not been a member of. In the wake of emo Long Island has become associated with the cranky inhabitants of suburbs, self-mutilation and skateboarding at malls instead of the cerulean water that tickles its forks, the radiant flora that spring up from its earth and the modest but lovely fauna that carouse among the flowers. Small Black doesn’t evoke those things--they’re not Real Estate!!!--but they miraculously evoke an image of the mystic apocryphal nineteen eighties Long Island I was conceived on and born during. Small Black evokes the steamy, foggy streets I’ve walked down many times, wearing a hoodie and thinking about a girl. Their great self-titled five song EP catches me between the contradictory emotions roused in me by kids smoking pot in and around swimming pools. Small Black makes me disdain the spoiled aimlessness of “Long Island adolescence” but also makes me long for an amble past a local duck pond, holding hands high.

Small Black is “glo-fi,” a trippy, mellow brand of lo-fi that sounds a lot like the Ninja Turtles Soudtrack cassette I used to listen to in bed at night in 1993. The lo-fi recording creates a haze not unlike a moist summer night, which obscures the sound as sfumato might a painting. Small Black sounds sort of thin and tinny on bad speakers or when played too quietly, but on good speakers or loud in headphones it sounds great. The EP opens with the same low-end drum loops the keyboards you find left out for the trash boast. “Despicable Dogs,” isn’t a far cry from New Order’s “Temptation,” but the longing is even more palpable. This super-cool Pitchfork approved jam also evokes Neon Indian and Washed Out. Lyrics are close to indecipherable but reference smoke machines and being lost in the woods. The dizzying physical sensation of running and ducking, drunk, breath visible in front of your eyes, is unmistakable and inseparable from the listening experience.

“Weird Machines” implores the listener to lie upon a mattress. It is darker than “Despicable Dogs” and its keyboards would evoke “This Heart’s On Fire,” if the rest of the song were not eviscerated of raucousness and pomp. Its chord progression is more melancholic, similar to the EP’s fourth track, “Pleasant Experience,” a song reminiscent of Neon Indian’s “6669 (I don’t know if you know).” Spacey and subdued, the song gives way to a fluttering of eyelashes, a synthetic mandolin a galaxy away and a chorus of opaque sensation. Something is hard to pin down. The percussion and winking bass line of the EP’s anthemic via anti-anthem,“Lady in the Wires,” is a pleasant way to end the EP. And things grow even murkier and more indecipherable as melodies grow more uplifting on the track’s long build.

Centerpiece “Bad Lover,” is infectious. It is the most danceable song on the EP, but really lends itself to a drowsy sway. Love is wasted and ambient guitars, pushed back beneath an astral synthesizer and percussive loop, evoke Loveless only slightly. Listening to “Bad Lover” reminds me of sitting with my legs up on a bed, leaning toward a lover’s warmth and shifting my weight to one hand as I bring my opening mouth toward hers. The pulse of the song’s chorus feels the same as the comforter and mattress recoiling under my palm and looks like the specter of an approaching face beneath closed lids. Posture is self-consciously straightened and in this immersive dorm room or park bench of sound the sense of touch is made immaculately and inexplicably present. Josh Kolenik reminds a listener of the realization “You are not in love,” a poignant one when the number of women kissed and kisses per woman grows inversely. “You were running off to / Perhaps to see her,” he sings over groupings of notes too crushed, too hushed to be chords, “Drawn to the site / Moving bones.” Small Black seems almost self-referential when two voices sing of “Drifting fog,” and either “Rain under water,” or “Laying underwater.”

Small Black were great live. I was lucky enough to wander into their set at U-Café early into the semester. The songs sound even better with a real rhythm section playing them and Small Black’s set may have been one of the most pleasant experiences I’ve had at a show. Now signed to Jagjaguwar, I assume that a more proper release from Small Black will surface before the year is through. For now their EP will make ambling through a flurry or crunching over see-through snow a little more worthwhile. Too bad those guys pretend they’re from Brooklyn.

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