SMALL BLACK - Best Blues

by Joseph Majsterski Rating:5 Release Date:2015-10-19

Small Black performed as the touring band for Ernest Greene's one-man project Washed Out, and I'm sure they did a fine job, but their new album, Best Blues, finds the band once again unable to match Greene's songwritring skills. The group has occasional moments of inspiration, but they mostly fall short in composition as they did in the previous release, Limits of Desire. There's a fine line in chillwave between reverie and vapidity, and Small Black slips to the wrong side of that line a bit too often to be a standout in the genre.

The albums starts off well with the aptly named 'Personal Best', which could indeed be the best song in the set, with nice floaty vocals and effects, and a very cool grindy guitar winding its way through the gaps. It has a solid emotional punch as well, something else that can get lost in the void in chillwave. The driving 'No One Wants It To Happen To You' is a decent followup, but starts to reveal the problem of losing the plot that crops up again and again, with its layers of mismatched sounds. The verses are just a bit too disjointed, the vocals just a bit too breathy. Same thing with 'Boys Life'. It starts out well, with a cool percussive rhythm, but the pieces have a tendency to drift apart here and there.

'The Closer I Look' has a really nice, mellow guitar and bass combo that sounds like early 90s Lush or Cocteau Twins, and an echoey harmonica that drifts in an out of awareness to good effect. It's an odd crapshoot how many of the pieces are similar across each song, but sometimes just work better. 'Big Ideas Pt. 2' goes the opposite direction, though, with an annoying and repetitive keyboard and vocal melody in the choruses and spartan verses that do little. It's illustrative of another recurring problem: Josh Kolenik's vocals are just not very strong, and only occasionally can he pull off whatever he's aiming to do.

'Back at Belle's' is another disappointment, with an awesomely hard late 80s urban pop beat that gets thrown out after only a few seconds, as the song veers right back into the same dishwater dull melange of droning keys, simplistic beats, barely there vocals, and basic keyboard melody. The percussion comes back to tease during the bridge, but it leaves you questioning the band's musical judgment, that they are unable to exploit anything innovative they come up with.

There's not much else to tell. The rest of the album continues in a similar fashion. The band will have occasional sparks of inspiration, but they are usually quickly cast aside in favor of going right back to their comfort zone again and again. Sometimes it works a little better, sometimes it doesn't, but you're never surprised or intrigued by what you're hearing. Most songs blur together, with little to distinguish them.

Small Black finds themselves still in the well worn rut they've crafted across their previous albums. It's so odd to realize that just because a band is technically in a genre you enjoy, that doesn't mean you'll enjoy their efforts. Small Black continues to produce adequate, but unexciting material, which is a shame, as it's clear they do have occasional good ideas, but consistently fail to develop them. TL;DR: this is a poor man's Washed Out.

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