Without having heard Small Black’s previous EP or this debut LP, New Chain, it wouldn’t be too difficult to divine the band’s glossy, lo-fi lope given only its origin as a beach-house bedroom-recording project and the Washed Out name-checking lyrics to “New Chain.” So while there’s little to surprise chillwave aficionados here, there is a clutch of songs—nearly too brief to make an impression—that prove that Josh Kolenik and Ryan Heyner were saving their powder for the full length, with more layered instrumentation, greater variation between songs, and vocals that, while as ghostly as ever, contribute their own hooks now instead of just camping out between the vintage synths and the stack of samplers. As with the self-titled EP, New Chain is stronger in its second half, but the electronics that bubble then burst and the clippity-clop beats of songs like “Light Curse” and the title track top previous efforts while making welcome detours into the hypnagogic-anthem territory of M83. Small Black isn’t interested in courting that level of drama however, and though New Chain can come across as naggingly unmemorable at times, with one slippery synth melding into the next insistent bass thump, there’s enough here to warrant returning for the odd refresher.
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