The cover of Brooklyn-based Small Black's second LP, Limits of Desire, features a photo of a man and a woman embracing on either side of a ladder, completely naked, divided by its triangular arc. They're close, but they can't get any closer. It's a moving depiction of connectivity and interaction in the 21st century and it serves as a sort of source code for the record.
Limits of Desire is Small Black's most accomplished album yet. It's a crystalline realization of a sound they've been building toward since their self-titled EP in 2009. Now a full-time four piece, Josh Hayden Kolenik (keys, vocals), Ryan Heyner (guitar, keys, vocals), Juan Pieczanski (bass, guitar) and Jeff Curtin (drums, percussion), the band have moved way beyond the hazy home recorded sound of their previous releases toward a full-fledged, but still self-produced, clear approach. Where 2010’s New Chain was a lesson in maximalist pop, Limits of Desire finds the band trimming their sound to the essentials, yet hitting new and unexpected heights with the addition of live drums, electric guitar and trumpet to the existing Small Black palette. Tonally the songs sweep and glide over lush keys, bolstered by lyrics that illustrate the semi-abstract moments of lost opportunities and misread signs, hinted at by the cover image. The title track whirls softly, and channels luminaries Tears for Fears and The Blue Nile, anchored by Pieczanski's punchy bass as Kolenik sings: "Other lives droned/ far from the grass where I lay/ each eye stared out the opposite way." As much as the record is about looking for deeper connections, it's also about avoiding real life, if only for a moment—getting out of your own head just long enough to calm down and find perspective.
“Free At Dawn” and “No Stranger” do what fans have come to love Small Black for, only better. They’re smart pop bangers tinged with a specific brand of melancholy that slowly build to night-affirming climaxes. While "Breathless” ups the tempo, over synth stabs, with lyrics that tackle apathy and uncertainty with catchy grace: "I'm standing in tomorrow's way/ future's fine/least it seems okay." It paints a concise portrait of a generation struggling with unlimited freedom and malaise.
The band builds on a rich history of synth pop by making a thoroughly modern album, on both the front and back end. One that seeks out cohesion, connection and calm in a world that won’t sit still. Limits of Desire doesn't attempt to provide any solutions, but coming to terms with not finding the answers feels infinitely more fruitful.
New Chain is the debut long-player from New York’s Small Black. The Brooklyn group have succeeded in melting together locked and popped drum-shudder, gauzy spirographic synths and subtly contagious, half-remembered melody into ebullient bursts of evocative, subliminal and thoroughly modern pop. The songs are equally informed by the rhythmic bounce and stylistic swagger of more left-leaning contemporary radio rap and R’n‘B as it is the submerged kaleidoscopic swirl of the early 4AD dream factory. Formed at the tail-end of 2008 as a bedroom recording project, Small Black first made waves with their eponymous debut EP.Throughout it, Small Black allowed their addictive, stay-gold hooks to unfurl themselves gradually over repeated listens. And now, slightly more immediate and polished than its predecessor, Small Black's new album New Chain remains a continuation of this contrasting ethos – a delirious smudging of the lines between melancholy and nostalgia, tension and celebration, unabashed pop music and experimentation. A thinker’s party record? A party-hardy thinker’s record? Not sure. All we know is that New Chain is one of the most involved, intriguing and effortlessly human collections of organic pop music you’re likely to hear this or any other year.
After months of thawing out in an uncle's attic, Small Black emerged with one of 2009’s catchiest debut releases. The Small Black EP, as it is called, melds strange beats, dreamy synths, tape hiss and laid-back melodies into pop jams. Teaming up with longtime collaborators Juan Pieczanski and Jeff Curtin, the band then fleshed out their bedroom sound, combining both live and sampled drums, live bass, keyboards and samplers for their live performance.
Now 2010 sees Small Black teaming up with Jagjaguwar for a deluxe re-mastered release of their debut EP with two extra songs added, “Kings Of Animals” and “Baby Bird Pt. 2.”
Such gimmick-free sentimentality can often prove too difficult to finagle, but "Despicable Dogs" is a guaranteed soul-stirrer. -- Pitchfork (Best New Music)