Gracing the cover of Brooklyn band Small Black’s new record, a mysterious woman walks alone on the dunes at dusk, amid pockmarked sand. She's the subject of a found photo, one of many rescued with the warmth of a blow dryer and a fireplace, by singer Josh Hayden Kolenik after Hurricane Sandy flooded his family’s Long Island home. The faded image offers clues and invites viewers to construct their own narrative, one that escapes even the picture’s taker, Kolenik’s father. To put it simply, Best Blues is an album about loss, the specific loss of precious people in our lives, but also the loss of memories and the difficult fight to preserve them. “I spent months trying to scan all these images & letters, most covered with ocean dirt, and in doing so discovered what people often find in their family’s past: that they are a hell of a lot like those who’d come before,” says Kolenik. The chorus of standout “Boys Life” echoes this sentiment with the refrain “pictures of youth/picturing you,” over a track that itself was an old demo re-discovered by accident by the band, during a late night jam session at a cabin in Upstate NY. The compassion of the record collects itself in the soft repeating mantra-esque hook in "No One Wants It To Happen To You".
The group’s third full length release, written & recorded at their Brooklyn home studio, nicknamed 222, showcases a band still evolving, and embracing the unpredictable. Kolenik (keys, vocals), Ryan Heyner (guitar, keys, vocals), Juan Pieczanski (bass, guitar) and Jeff Curtin (drums) have been recording, writing, and often living together, throughout the life of the band, establishing a closeness that has allowed them to achieve easy creativity and unspoken chemistry. After a year of recording, that band enlisted mixer Nicholas Vernhes (War on Drugs, Deerhunter) of Rare Book Room Studio to help complete the record.
Best Blues finds the band in their sweet spot: the smoky intersection of considered & vulnerable songwriting and loose, almost nonchalant ambience. The addition of piano flourishes, trumpet (Darby Cicci of The Antlers), hidden acoustic guitars and Kaede Ford’s ethereal vocals provide new dimensions to the band’s already expansive sonic palette. Cut-to-the-chase rippers “Back at Belle’s” & “Checkpoints” embody & build on the group’s signature gritty yet focused electronic sound. While the more pastoral tracks, such as “Between Leos,” & “XX Century,” skeletally based on recorded improvisations, find the band painting a more nuanced, assured aural portrait. The repeating of the line “twentieth century” on closer, “XX Century”, serves as a coda for the album, offering a simple summation of what Best Blues’ intent has been from the opening Casio stab: an attempt to re-examine the past, but also one to let it go.
Small Black's Real People EP follows the band's 2013 critically acclaimed album, Limits Of Desire. Sonically, the New York band continue with the pristine electronics they mastered on their last full length and features guest vocals from Frankie Rose on two of the five tracks.
FUN FACT: The title track drew inspiration from one of our generations greatest folk heroes, Colton Harris-Moore aka The Barefoot Bandit.
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.
On the heels of Small Black's debut full length, New Chain, comes their 7-inch for "Photojournalist", featuring a cover of Best Coast's "Sun Was High (So Was I)."
"Photojournalist" finds the band building on their signature sound of hazy synths, kaleidoscopic melodies, and Josh Kolenik's hushed vocals, by thickly layering hook upon hook over a propulsive drum beat.
The b-side houses their dreamix of Best Coast's stoner love anthem "Sun Was High (So Was I)."
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 â€“ 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)