Small Black: Limits of Desire (Jagjaguwar) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine

Small Black

Limits of Desire

Jagjaguwar

Jun 03, 2013 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


"I've been keeping my, keeping myself from you/Hoping you, hoping you just come to." Such are the softly uttered lyrics that kick off Small Black's second album, Limits of Desire, another exercise in '80s-tinged dream-pop after 2010's debut, New Chain. Despite the nebulous guitars and slow-building drums recalling Joshua Tree-era U2, it's the opening lines of melodramatic pacemaker "Free At Dawn" that set the tone for the album-lovesick, wistful, disarmingly naive. Like any normal pacemaker, the song as a whole briefly excites before giving way to the record's true contenders.

Small Black specializes in reverb-soaked boy-pop, with washed-out guitars and floaty vocals that resemble Wild Nothing. There's much greater synth action here, though, as well as more dance-friendly percussion and a heavier obsession with soundtracks from '80s teen movies (can we find anyone who isn't obsessed with those today?).

As background music to loning it downtown in a big city-like, say, Small Black's own New York-Limits of Desire is pretty perfect. When you look too closely it's tricky to pick out highlights, as the record is consistently pleasing without necessarily thrilling. But "Canoe" is compelling enough, its initial hip-hop stomp giving way to a twinkly, waterfall lushness. "Breathless" picks up the pace, an infectious toe-tapper, even if the lyrics are a little tricky to make out. "Proper Spirit" is catchier still, a pure top-down 'let's get the hell out of here' joy-ride. It's the closer, "Outskirts," though, with its tremulous funk-lite opening, splashes of synth-brass, and layers of spacescape-sound, that rises above and manages to wow.

The key to success for this sort of (rather fashionable) dream-pop is not to ape your influences but to challenge them. Thus springs originality. With uninhibited lashings of synth and dance rhythm often drowning out the guitars, Small Black seems to understand this better than many peers. While Limits of Desire isn't ground-breaking, it's a charming record suggestive of a band with a bright future. (www.small-black.com)

Author rating: 7/10

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