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Album Review: Small Black – ‘Limits of Desire’

After being named among the Top 100 Acts at SXSW in 2011, Small Black have been on a mission to create a more wholesome sound and possibly re-create themselves in the process. The synth-pop that garnered attention on the group’s earlier EPs back in 2009 and 2010 is slightly different from their new album, Limits of Desire, but it’s a game-changer. The Brooklyn chillwave band set their goal to make these new tracks the best possible version of themselves and have succeeded in doing so.

‘Free at Dawn’ appears first with a definitively lo-fi, indie sound; full of organ-like synthesizer effects and recycled beats. With the vocals of Josh Hayden Kolenik echoing under the effects, it’s a sure-fire soother.

‘Canoe’, meanwhile, is marvellous. With a wholesomely groovesome beat, music that is this capable of grabbing your soul and getting you moving is worth listening to. Striking a solid balance between vocals and effects, ‘Canoe’ never feels overly reliant on one or the other; instead, it finds perfection. “No Stranger” continues the pace and expectations of the previous tracks – another wonderfully danceable track.

‘Sophie’ begins with a series of heavy, steady drumbeats, gradually leading into the track’s chorus accompanied by light taps on the keys. And, what a chorus it is: Kolenik and guitarist Ryan Heyner come together vocally here, truly bolstering up the sound, though still maintaining an element of breeziness. ‘Breathless’ then comes as a refreshing change of pace, cutting in fast and loud and awakening a wild spirit that was missing in ‘Sophie’.

The 70s disco-like beats that permeate ‘Only a Shadow’ come as little surprise; they’re a guaranteed crowd-pleaser and assured to get people dancing. ‘Shook Loves’ cools things down to a slow jam pace: the melodious vocals and the new wave, almost surf rock, guitar cultivating an intimate atmosphere.

The tracks featured on Limits of Desire feel intricately placed, with each one from ‘Free at Dawn’ to ‘Outskirts’ exuding just the right amount of energy and pace. The effort and precision that’s gone into crafting the album as a whole can heard throughout, and it’s this level of craft that might just make it Small Black’s best release to date.

- Jess Edwards


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