Album Review: Small Black – Best Blues


Small Black is a band that’s been concerned with the future for a bit; looking forward, looking inside their psyche. Since the Brooklyn based group (by way of Washington, D.C. and Long Island) started in Brooklyn, they’ve released several albums that track this outlook.

The most recent offering, “Best Blues” is an album that is still looking forward, but only after an extended glance behind them. During Hurricane Sandy, Josh Hayden Kolenik’s family house was put 5 feet under water, damaging, destroying and, generally, unearthing many of his family memories in the deluge. From destruction that came the cover: a soft, grainy photograph with spots of damage featuring an unknown person standing on a beach, the sun setting into a soft pink backdrop. This is perhaps fitting for an album that Kolenik has described as “No Rebirth Without Destruction.” The figure looks sad and the foreground dark, but light enters from behind.


“It seems disaster is on the horizon,” Kolenik recently told Noisey but the album itself doesn’t offer a spectre of foreboding that one might find on an album preceded by that kind of statement. Between Leos, the seventh cut, might exemplify the album’s aesthetic best – it’s a soft dreamscape, maybe a hint of Cocteau Twins or New Order, with lyrics that dwell on a memory. Something of a reflection, but with an eye for that pastel horizon on the cover.

No One Wants It To Happen To You moves on a more of a clip, a shimmering synthesizer riff driven by a deep bass. The potential for this song to sound like a cold, distant stomper seems likely but in Small Blacks’ hands it becomes something warm. “We live in the dark / we do what we can,” he says. We don’t find this to a Nihilistic statement, but maybe one of acceptance at life the way it is – just do what you can, enjoy, don’t worry about the unknown elements.

Another highlight comes on Smoke Around the Bend – combining a driving rhythm guitar worthy of Fleetwood notoriety under a saturnine synth (that sounds like a transmission from Saturn itself). “What did I intend to see?” is quietly intoned over the kinetic energy of the song – more rhetorical questions asked over a frantic sound with no intention of letting you go back to check again.

“Chillwave” has been thrown around to describe Small Black for a bit now, but we feel that does them a bit of disservice. Certainly there’s a lot here owed to Cocteau Twins, Berlin, The Cure but they’re not a replacement or replica of the New Wave walls of sound. Small Black plays carefully on this album, letting us get a human insight into their thoughts but continues to point towards to the horizon rather than dwelling on past sadness. They’ve crafted an album that, even in all the electronic fuzz, still feels warm to the touch and nods to the sense of The Beyond in a hopeful way.

/- Ethan Brown

Listen to Small Black’s Best Blues on the Spotify New Music Friday playlist:

More Info:

Official Site:

Boys Life (Official Video):

Twitter: @SmallBlk

Instagram: @SmallBlackmusic

Facebook: @SmallBlk

Label: Jagjaguwar

Tour Dates:

Fri. Oct. 16 – Austin, TX @ Red 7

Sat. Oct. 17 – Dallas, TX @ Club Dada

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, TV @ Signal Kitchen

Thu. Nov. 12 – Boston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall

Sat. Nov. 21 – Brooklyn, NY @ Baby’s All Right


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Designer from HELM Boots & independent pattern maker in Austin, TX.

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