Prefacing their latest release with a found photo, washed back colours faded with age, Brooklyn’s Small Black set the tone for fragile memories and loss. Best Blues is the third album from the band, and is the latest evolution of Small Black’s lo-fi indie sound. Inspired by singer Josh Hayden Kolenik’s familial memorabilia – and the near loss of it during a flood – the record “is an album about loss, the specific loss of precious people in our lives, but also the loss of memories and the difficult fight to preserve them.”
Best Blues is certainly heavy on atmosphere, opening with echoing industrial beats and sustained guitars and synths on Personal Best. It’s a fully rounded out sound, heavy on the bass and pulsating synths, and Kolenik’s vocals waft over the top in an almost ghostly fashion. The overall feel is one of a ‘big sound’ that touches on 80’s rock and pop. Carried through to No One Wants It To Happen To You with it’s bass and effect intro, it is immediately reminiscent of Joy Division. But swiftly giving way to a quick disco beat, club style synths pulse in the background and light vocals intertwine with flourishing effects. The sense of memory and loss is pretty evident in this one; in a melancholic piano part and the thoughtful, repetitive lyrics.
It is synth heavy, but Best Blues does hold enough variation to keep your interest. Big Ideas Pt 2 sits heavily on a jaggedly pulsing bass line, but balanced out by ethereal vocals and some glittery synth washes. Often labelled as chill wave, this is as close as Small Black get to it on the album. But underpinning the track with such heavy bass and a quick beat prevents it from getting too dreamy. One of the most interesting arrangements on the record is definitely Smoke Around The Bend. Starting out with an instrumental intro, skirting between orchestral and electronic, and somewhere between oriental feels and Popcorn. An acoustic guitar is subtly layered in against brooding but melodic vocals. It all creates an addictive but pleasantly discordant sound, that is both lulling and frenetic all at the same time.
Best Blues is an appealing release from Small Black, richly textured and beautifully produced by the band. Genre defying and pulling from various influences, the album grows on further listening as all the subtle touches gradually come to the fore.