Falling sonically somewhere between Rogue Wave and Clinic, Small Black’s EP (simply called “EP”) manages to breathe some life into the bedroom-Casio scene. The duo has picked up some positive press and has some international dates lined up, testifying to its uptick in popularity. Plus, the band is on the Jagjaguwar label, which doesn’t hurt.
It could be that the band has an earnestness and warmth that comes through in its simple songs: never overreaching, not pretentious… and also not cheesy, despite the 80s-style canned rhythms. The beat that starts early in “Kings of Animals” doesn’t do much more than act as a metronome. Same thing on all the songs, really. The warped, distorted samples and keyboard lines really define the sound. It’s like Ariel Pink but without the guitars. The vocals inhabit a gauzy, reverbed world unto themselves, spreading out in the space. It’s a little otherworldly. The MBV-like “Baby Bird Pt. 2” spends its first half in a fog of atmospherics before returning to Earth for a quiet and peaceful closure.
The top marks go to Small Black’s seemingly signature song “Despicable Dogs,” another animal-themed title. If it were given Depeche Mode production treatments, it would be the kind of thing kids would play at prom: melodic, dreamy, and dancey. In its actual, lo-fi state, it conveys something completely different and sad.
Kind of haunting, this sincere record feels both claustrophobic and expansive, hopeful and sad. It’s somehow affecting where it could have easily been indulgent and pedestrian.