Small Black has been Brooklyn’s shining star of chill synth music for some time. They struck again on April 1, releasing their new Real People EP that featured several collaborations with Frankie Rose. They closed the book on a US tour with fellow Brooklynites, Snowmine, on Sunday April 13.
The first performer of the evening was Estonian psychedelic, lo-fi producer Maria Minerva. I found her experimental use of sampling and beats intriguing based off her studio recordings. However, the live material was a bit underwhelming. It wasn’t anything dancey and her vocals came across as a bit forced. The lack of continuity created a rift between her and the audience. That being said, her material is still worth a listen. I would like to see her in the future, she just needs some time to refine her live techniques.
Snowmine followed things up with an eye-opening performance. Their 2014 release, Dialects, has been a favorite of mine so far this year. It features some deep layering with backing from a variety of instrumentals stemming from the classical background of frontman Grayson Sanders. The bad news is that their new-classical fourth dimension is absent from their live sets. The good news is that what Snowmine lacks in terms of atypical live instruments, they make up for with cool visual backdrops and a captivating stage presence.
They covered plenty of Dialects while dipping into tracks of old like “The Hill” and “Let Me In” off their debut LP, Laminate Pet Animal. Being known for their strong orchestral arrangements, you’d worry that Snowmine may lose that in translation performing live. You do miss the depth, but the bottom line is that the band finds strength in performing. Tracks like “Columbus” and “Silver Sieve” are a pleasure to listen to both live and via headphones.
From the outset of Small Black‘s headlining set, the first thing you definitely noticed was that there was a trumpeter. He’s been touring with the band for several months now and breathed some extra life into tracks like “Free at Dawn” and the epic encore performance of “Outskirts”. It was a very cool direction to steer in, given the total synth nature of the Small Black music catalog. You’d wonder if there will be further experimentation in the studio going forward.
In addition to the trumpet, Small Black’s dreamy, electronic dance beats were on point. The only way “Real People” would have been better was if Frankie Rose actually joined in for the performance. A more upbeat rendition of “Proper Spirit” and a groovy throwback to “Photojournalist” were particularly enjoyable. Small Black has received criticism for a lack of progressive evolution in their material. This show, however, only proved that they have a winning formula in hand. They also showed the potential interest in experimentation, so who knows what direction they could veer in next.