What we're listening to
In 1970, when The Nightmare of J B Stanislas was released, Nick Garrie was young, blond, and beautiful. But one need only look to Scott Walker at the time to see that pop idol looks and ambitious melancholic talent didn't necessarily equate to record sales. Garrie's debut album isn't as dramatically symphonic as Walker's solo efforts of the time, but it features beautifully lush orchestration. His purple lyrical style — which bears some similarity to Donovan's — and gentle choir-schooled voice meet up with strings to best effect on the plaintive "Can I Stay With You?," a love song to a girl in his French lit class.
Last summer I saw Small Black play after Pictureplane and before Washed Out on a chillwave triple bill of sorts that was disappointing in terms of how the sound translated to a live context. At the time, Small Black came off as the closest to an actual band, calling New Order to mind in terms of sound if not songwriting caliber. A year or so later, with a chillwave backlash in effect, Small Black's debut album arrives amid a blogosphere's worth of dodgy enthusiasm about the latest microgenre du jour: drag (or haunted house, or witch house). You can hear some trendy witch house elements in the production of New Chain, especially the album's variety of woozy and wheezy speedball sounds, but Small Black is far more musical and melodic than the wretched hype-magnet Salem, and fond of vintage hi-NRG touches. A little pretty goes a long way, and at least "Search Party" and "Photojournalist" have incandescent moments.