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Noisy yet wistful electro-indie pop group Small Black started with a name and worked backward: 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 had 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 as Uncle Matt made surfboards underneath them. Juan Pieczanski and Jeff Curtin from Kolenik's previous band, Slowlands, came into the mix early on, adding production and songwriting and filling out the band's live sounds. Small Black released their self-titled five-song EP on their own CassClub label in October 2009, and released the U.K. single "Despicable Dogs," as well as a video for that song featuring Uncle Matt, soon after. The band played several dates at that year’s CMJ Music Marathon. Small Black signed to Jagjaguwar Records, who reissued the band’s debut EP with two bonus tracks in 2010. That year, the band also released a split single with the like-minded Washed Out, with whom Small Black also went on tour.
New Chain, the band's first full-length, boasted a slightly more polished sound and arrived in October 2010. In late 2011, the band offered up the Moon Killer mixtape for free download from their website. The collection of new material was built on overt samples of sources varying from Pere Ubu to Nicki Minaj, and featured multiple drop-ins from Das Racist MC Heems, as well as remixes from Star Slinger and Phonetag. After relentless touring for the next two years, Small Black announced that they were attempting a more sophisticated, less ornamental sound with their follow-up, Limits of Desire, which was released in May of 2013. The band followed that record with an EP, Real People, in 2014 that aimed more for the dancefloor, with vocals from Frankie Rose and a cover of the Blue Nile's classic "Downtown Lights."