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Small Black / Washed Out - EP

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Album Review

Small Black’s self-titled debut EP earned a sizable amount of buzz when it was released in the fall of 2009 in a limited edition of 1,000 copies — and with its reissue on CD with bonus tracks, it’s a lot easier to hear why. The band’s core duo, Josh Kolenik and Ryan Heyner, recorded these songs in Kolenik’s uncle’s attic during a Long Island winter, and these songs really soaked up that atmosphere: Small Black’s distant vocals and in-the-red keyboards and guitars bleed into each other over crisp mechanical beats, mixing the best of dream pop’s haze, synth pop’s aloofness, and lo-fi’s intimacy. Like Neon Indian, it’s hard to believe that a sound this big came from a duo. However, unlike similar bands that seem to insulate themselves with layers of noise, Small Black’s music is saturated not just with sound but emotion, as if the feelings in their songs were too big to capture without bleeding out. “Despicable Dogs” is a masterful piece of bummer pop, its blurry melody conjuring up a summer’s worth of regret that the refrain “Do it without me/Do it when I’m gone” hits home. Every track here shows off Small Black’s way with textures, from the piercing, jolie-laide keyboard hook of "Weird Machines" to “Lady in the Wires,” a song laden with interstellar static that recalls Joe Meek and Broadcast as much as it does Small Black's contemporaries. The band’s sound isn’t all about noise, though, as “Pleasant Experience”’s limpid tones and the contrast between Kolenik’s yearning vocals and the blur of activity behind him on “Bad Lover” show. Indeed, it’s Kolenik’s emotive singing that makes Small Black unique — even on the happier bonus track “Kings of Animals,” he brings something very human and moving to the song. Though this track and the other bonus song, “Baby Bird, Pt. 2,” don’t quite fit the mood of what came before them, they reaffirm what an impressive command of songwriting and sound-shaping Small Black displayed on their very first release.


Formed: 2007 in Long Island, NY

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Noisy yet wistful electro-indie pop group Small Black started with a name and worked backwards: a housemate of singer/multi-instrumentalist Josh Kolenik came up with the moniker on a cold Portland, Oregon night. The name stuck when he returned to Long Island, New York and began collaborating with Ryan Heyner, an area musician who shared mutual friends with Kolenik. The pair holed up in Kolenik's uncle's attic to record songs with vintage keyboards and samplers, spending the winter of 2008-2009 recording...
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Small Black / Washed Out - EP, Small Black
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