I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t fully comprehend the sudden focus on what many have dubbed “hypnagogic pop.” I don’t know where chillwave ends and glo-fi begins. And for that matter, I have trouble with the idea of willfully listening to a genre with a name as god-awful as “glo-fi.” Curmudgeonly gripes aside though, I’m generally on board with embracing this D.I.Y. synth-pop sound when it’s done well. In 2009, a variety of artists ranging from Memory Tapes to Washed Out emerged with their own albums and EPs displaying the promise of a Casio ensconced in fuzz, some more successful than others. Late in the year, however, Brooklyn outfit Small Black slipped in their five-track entry, a fuzzy and tuneful gem that stood out as one of the strongest among its neon peers.
Though that EP’s release may have been a bit hushed, Jagjaguwar took notice and has since reissued the self-titled effort with two extra tracks, offering Small Black a proper introduction to a wider audience. Short on tracks, yet high on substance, Small Black’s debut EP is a fun and hypnotic release, sonically warm and intimate. Yet for all the emphasis on the wooziness and wobble of chillwave, what sets Small Black apart is the strength of their songwriting. Small Black are less about the effects, though those are plentiful, and more about the tunes themselves.
The EP gets off to an outstanding start with the soaring “Despicable Dogs,” a song that aims for the skies in spite of its limited production values. It’s an infectious new wave anthem and feelgood jam that lends itself to repeat spins. Then again, so does “Weird Machines,” a slightly noisier cousin to The Big Pink’s “Dominos.” The dense haze of “Bad Lover” has a tweaked shoegazer quality, recalling M83’s dreamier singles, while “Pleasant Experience” has a jaunty skip in its step, and “Lady In the Wires” throws some hand percussion into the mix for maximum danceability.
The EP’s two bonus tracks are equally intriguing in their effects-laden glory, if a bit less immediate. “Kings of Animals” provides a slightly more polished slice of four-chord pop, while “Baby Bird, pt. 2” unfolds initially with a thick layer of fuzz before it transforms at the halfway point into an exotic, rhythmic ballad with plenty of space-age atmosphere to spare. The band plans to release a full-length, their first, later this year, and based on the bliss they’ve spun on these seven tracks, that makes autumn something to look forward to.
Washed Out – Life of Leisure
Memory Tapes – Seek Magic
M83 – Before the Dawn Heals Us
MP3: “Despicable Dogs”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.