Album Review: “Best Blues” by Small Black

A hint of My Bloody Valentine, a smattering of Neon Indian, a taste of The Cure-like guitar plucking and Small Black’s telltale heavy use of synthesizers and echoing vocals make Best Blues what it is: an eccentric collection of sentimental and memory-filled tracks that was inspired by water logged photos. Songs like “The Closer I Look”, “Boys Life” and “No One Wants it to Happen to You” and generally, every track has a sense of looking back. The tracks are able to capture the feelings you get when you’re flipping through old photo albums or in this day and age, scrolling through old photos stored on your computer.

“Personal Best” pulls you into the world Small Black has created around soggy photos lead singer, Josh Kolenik, rescued with a blow dryer from the wet ruins of his family’s flooded home in Long Island after Hurricane Sandy hit. Side note, the cover art for the record is one of these photos.This track is followed by one of the singles released before the record, “No One Wants it to Happen to You” which quite simply is about exactly with the title says. How many times do we as humans experience something difficult? At this moment, we feel things and think things we would never wish upon anyone else. This song encapsulates those moments where you realize you’re not alone when you’re in a difficult place. All you can do is ride it out, rise above and hope no one else finds themselves where you are.

We live in the dark, we do what we can.

The rest is up to you.

The video was recently released for “No One Wants it to Happen to You” and ties in flawlessly with the theme of the record. Director, William Colby, says about the video, “With the video, I wanted to explore our complex relationship with water: We are in awe of it, we need it to live, yet it can kill us and destroy our homes. Through juxtaposing and blending water footage with an intimate performance, I attempted to tie this idea into the main themes of the band’s album.”

I don’t even know where to start with “Boys Life.” This track sticks out so starkly to me on this record both sonically and personally. For me, this is the most concrete song on the album. The rest of the songs float in a digital world that is a little more difficult to grip, they don’t get stuck in my head. The verses, the chorus, the bridge, it all gets stuck there. A beautiful and fleeting music video accompanies this song as well.

“Big Ideas Pt. 2” begins a bit off kilter and every time the chorus comes back, that off kilter sound and feeling returns while Josh Kolenik sings:

Love is a choice,

Love is no answer.

The slightly dissonant chorus works in uniquely with the verses which are smooth and sleek. As the song builds and continues, the dissonance and sleekness meet, giving the track closure and leaving your ears at peace. The evolution within the track is fascinating.

The track “XX Century” closes the record. It’s almost as if you can see the credits rolling as this track plays. It really wraps up the record as a whole, holding all of the elements that make Best Blues.  Vocals resonating in the distance and wave-like percussion roll over the listener.

In all, I dig this record big time. It is out now on Jagjaguwar. Catch Small Black runnin’ around and playin’ shows this fall.

Sun. Oct. 18 – San Antonio, TX @ 502 Bar *
Tue. Oct. 20 – Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar *
Wed. Oct. 21 – San Diego, CA @ Casbah *
Fri. Oct. 23 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Roxy Theatre *
Sat. Oct. 24 – San Francisco, CA @ The Independent *
Mon. Oct. 26 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge *
Tue. Oct. 27 – Vancouver, BC @ Biltmore Cabaret *
Wed. Oct. 28 – Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile – Back Bar *
Thu. Oct. 29 – Boise, ID @ Neurolux *
Fri. Oct. 30 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge *
Sat. Oct. 31 – Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge *
Mon. Nov. 2 – Kansas City, MO @ The Tank Room *
Tue. Nov. 3 – Iowa City, IA @ The Mill *
Wed. Nov. 4 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St Entry *
Fri. Nov. 6 – Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall *
Sat. Nov. 7 – Detroit, MI @ UFO Factory *
Sun. Nov. 8 – Toronto, ON @ The Garrison *
Tue. Nov. 10 – Montreal, QC @ La Sala Rossa *
Wed. Nov. 11 – Burlington, VT @ Signal Kitchen *
Thu. Nov. 12 – Boston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall *
Fri. Nov. 20 – Brooklyn, NY @ Baby’s All Right *
Sat. Nov. 21 – Brooklyn, NY @ Baby’s All Right *

* w/ Painted Palms

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