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Small Black Cautiously Rides the (Chill) Wave

By Kim Bellware in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 11, 2010 8:00PM

Photo via Small Black's myspace page
While not quite at the level of full-on ubiquity, the chillwave genre seems ripe for — if not already in the midst of — a backlash. Still, despite our feelings that one should drop a nickle in the pop culture reference equivalent of a "swear jar" every time the term is used, we won't argue that some of the bands falling under the chillwave umbrella are actually worth their salt. The Brooklyn foursome Small Black has emerged as one of the few acts that seem likely to endure long after the fascination with yet another faddish genre has passed.

Following an EP and an excellent split single with genre cohort Washed Out, Small Black spent about a year growing the band from two members to four as they put together their debut LP, New Chain. Expanding from a primarily synth-based duo gave Small Black the versatility of a full band as well as a leg up on their contemporaries that play with the constraints of a solo or duo plus laptop. The band was still savvy to employ key moves that have made people gush about chillwave--dreamy (and copious) loops, samples, processed electronic effects and synthesizers all the live long day--nabbing a piece of the musical pie while the getting was (or is) still good.

In refusing go whole hog with a narrow, albeit buzzed-about, style of music, Small Black leaves themselves with plenty of room to explore a world beyond woozy, distorted vocals and lo-fi interpretations of '80s synthesized pop. There's no mistaking that for the moment the band is still embracing that style, but even the subtle departures like vocals that are refreshingly more man than machine or thumping bass and drums kicked out by actual musicians make their iteration of the style more distinctive than most. The band's ability to melt away some of the cosmic frostiness that covers the typical computer and synth-heavy song will undoubtedly be an even bigger advantage once chillwave passes and bands begin to power down the laptop.

MP3: Small Black "Search Party"

Small Black plays Monday, November 15, at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N Western Ave, 9:30 p.m., $10, 21+