Small Black are not a British band. This may be the crappiest opening to a review DiS has run yet, but as the absolutely-not-chillwave Brooklynites' new album Limits of Desire demonstrates, they have never ever experienced this glorious May grey and drizzle.
So yes, this is an absolutely-not-chillwave, laid back, breezy slice of intelligent pop music from a reasonably acclaimed indie four piece from New York. It is an album remarkably characteristic of a good third of those reviewed on Drowned in Sound each week, most notable for not really standing out from the current climate at all. This is a band whose introductory blurb on Wikipedia notes that they’re renowned for playing the likes of the Primavera and SXSW festivals: bubbling cauldrons of the bands beloved of hipster webzine online communities.
Aside from ensuring Limits of Desire struggles to push its head above the sea of similar-sounding records, the difficulty presented here is finding a way to persuade you to carry on reading this review. The flip side of this is that the band’s ability to blend so seamlessly into current fashion – début LP New Chain popped up in 2010 right at the zenith of the whole synth pop thing – means that Limits of Desire is almost guaranteed to be effortless and pleasing.
The album also knows not to overstay its welcome. The ten tracks add up to under 45 minutes and each of them is a neatly constructed groove, with the bass treading a path without ever touching the ground and the rest gliding neatly alongside it. Vocalist Josh Kolienik has a decent range that he uses to express just enough emotion to lift the songs but never really takes centre stage. There’s not a lot in his voice to ever really grasp the heart or mind, but if you expected him to ever be Icarus and risk becoming overbearing then you haven’t really been reading, and the same can be said for the rest of the band.
Describing individual tracks is pretty much a perfunctory task. Soothing synths are abound, dexterously adding light and colour to every song on here. Guitars crop up hither and thither, heavily treated on the intro to ‘No Stranger’, distorted and blended into the mise-en-scène on trippy single ‘Free At Dawn’, and acoustic and pretty on ‘Sophie’. The atmosphere switches smoothly from song to song, ‘Breathless’ (perhaps a bit too on-the-nose with its title) swoons airily before ‘Proper Spirit’ pulses, with a chorus that sounds a bit like a danceable version of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Seven Wonders’.
The real problem with Limits of Desire is that it’s a decent album that’s difficult to sell. I have a fairly old iPod, and I don’t know if the newer ones have the function to shuffle the albums in my collection; that’s something I enjoy doing though and if this album should come on (whenever this glorious May grey and drizzle abates) then it’ll be a pleasant 45 minutes.
6Dan Lucas's Score