With indie music bloggers living by the semi-ironic phrase “chillwave is dead” or “glo-fi is dead,” the genre has only given birth to more ambient, over-reverberated pop. The resurgence of shoegaze and dream pop has also revived those interested in textural, ethereal music. Limits of Desire is Small Black’s contribution to a genre still headed by the likes of Toro Y Moi and Washed Out. Let’s be glad they’re brave enough to do so.
“Free At Dawn” is a straight nod to the dream pop heroes of the ’80s. Hints of Cocteau Twins, Slowdive and the Jesus and Mary Chain echo along the sweet, boyish New Order-like vocals. Pulsing synth basslines and soaring leads prance around the track with unlimited purpose. It’s quite liberating.
“Canoe” is where the sound people are expecting drops in. The Tears For Fears meets Keith Sweat vibe–made popular by Blackbird Blackbird and recent synth wizard Chad Valley–flow like water throughout this track. The playful synth work is both lush and distinct. Even if you’re trapped in Phil Spector’s wall of sound, each note is apparent and accounted for. This is impeccable production.
Songs like “Breathless” and “Only a Shadow” rely heavily on ’80s gimmicks like glassy synths, punchy snares, and groovy basslines, but doesn’t rely at all on cheap nostalgia. Small Black’s sense of melody and execution make sure these songs translate to modern desires and aesthetics. The feeling of longing and hopelessness just sounds better drowned in massive amount of reverb.
The album closes with “Outskirts.” Beginning with sounds of the ocean and an overall surf/tropical feel, Small Black delivers an impressive performance of elegant percussion and mood-swaying vocals. Limits of Desire still follows a somewhat trendy formula in this genre, but Small Black does it well and without abandon. Chaz Bundick may be at the top of this game, but Small Black proves there’s always more out there.