After three years and as many releases trading in lo-fi, Casio-constructed synth-pop, the four members of Brooklyn’s Small Black decided it was time for a change. “I think as you get a little older and more learned in your craft, you want to show everything and not hide behind multiple vocal takes or any sort of haze or crud,” says frontman Josh Kolenik. “We’re going to live or die by our vocals and there’s no sweeping it under the rug.”
So the band decided to peel back some of the layers. Rather than stick with the maximalist fog that populated 2010’s New Chain, they decided to approach the writing of Limits of Desire, their forthcoming full-length, with a less-is-more mindset. “With one bass tone and with one or two keyboard tones,” Kolenik continues, “it’s more powerful, more confident.” And as the band explains, their work has always been driven by setting limitations. For their self titled EP in 2009, it was a reliance on cheap keyboards and dingy drum machines; for New Chain it meant formally banning all guitars. But, as expressed by its title, the limitations facing the foursome’s latest had little to do with sonics.
Recorded, mixed, and self-produced over the last year at both a house in Delaware and the Brooklyn abode of members Juan Pieczanski and Jeff Curtin (the latter of which doubles as their practice space), Limits of Desire finds the band continuing their streak of home-recorded releases. And while such a setting may conjure additional images of kids with laptops hunkering down in basements, Small Black allowed themselves to diversify. Between tracking kick drums in bedrooms and laying down acoustic guitar whenever it might service lyrics and vocal melody (which, the band insists, lays at the heart of every track), the band ditched their synth and sample exclusivity in favor of live drums and a greater emphasis on organic instrumentation.
And with a wider instrumental palette and focus on keeping tracks less cluttered, the band finds themselves poised to break from earlier form. “New Chain was hyper-layered collage-y by design,” Kolenik explains, “and as an artist you always want to fight against what you did last.” Limits of Desire, due later this spring, is the sound of that battle.