After more than half a decade on from their last album, Best Blues, Brooklyn-based Small Black is back with their fourth studio album, Cheap Dreams. The album finds the band continuing in the musical style that they do best. It’s a modernized blend of 80’s New Romantic (Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, etc.) and 90’s shoegaze that combine to make their own brand of Chillwave. Vocalist Josh Kolenik has a way of combining thoughtful lyrics over the music on their albums and Cheap Dreams is no exception.
The first track, “Tampa,” opens on gleaming, undulating melody while precise percussion drives the rhythm as oscillating tones ripple overhead. “Duplex” rides shimmering synth atop a thumping kick-drum. The tune assumes dream-pop feels merged with chillwave textures as the melody takes over. The focus of “Duplex” though is the gentle falsetto of Josh Kolenik, imbuing the lyrics with soft texture. “The Bridge” travels on a floating piano melody backed by swirling strings, before moving into a new wave cadence juxtaposed against elongated vocal timbres. The tune coalesces into a wall of sounds that give the feel of shining layers. The most standout track on Cheap Dreams is “Tampa,” with its depth and impressive scope of blending three intertwining layers of sonic textures while giving a feeling of suppressed energy lying just below the surface.
While Cheap Dreams doesn’t keep the full cohesive feel of past releases, Small Black do a great job of creating timeless songs that feel like they could fit on any of their releases. The main difference with Cheap Dreams is that it finds the band incorporating a more Hi-Fi sound instead of strictly sticking to the traditional Lo-Fi sounds found in the Chillwave genre.
Photo credit: Caroline Mathis