Small Black Limits of Desire Review

Small Black are to release their new album Limits of Desire on May 13 through Jagjaguwar. The cover of the album, shot by Dutch artist Scarlett Hooft Graafland, serves as a sort of visual source code for its themes. How are our desires limited and how, in turn, are we limited by them? Featuring a man and a woman embracing on either side of a ladder, the two are completely naked but divided by its triangular span – close but unable to get any closer. It is a moving depiction of modern connectivity and interaction.

Built off the back of 2010’s New Chain and 2009’s self-titled EP, Limits of Desire is a crystallisation of Small Black’s synth-pop sound. Together the four piece, Josh Hayden Kolenik (keys, vocals), Ryan Heyner (guitar, keys, vocals), Juan Pieczanski (bass, guitar) and Jeff Curtin (drums, percussion) have moved past the hazy, bedroom-recorded feel of their previous releases with a refined sound.

Small Black

Four piece synth-pop band, Small Black

This was achieved, in part, with the addition of live drums, electric guitar and trumpet to the band’s sonic palette. Speaking with SPIN recently, Kolenik pointed out these changes saying: “New Chain was hyper-layered collage-y by design and as an artist you always want to fight against what you did last…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.”

The tracks are sophisticated and precisely rendered on Limits of Desire. Previous single Free at Dawn appears as track one on the album with their new release No Stranger following shortly behind as track three. The band have recently released No Stranger on the internet. No Stranger is a song that shows the band combining their knack for creating a glorious haze of sound with bigger melodies than ever before. Canoe follows Free at Dawn with a soothing melody and brilliant floating vocals.

Sophie is another mesmerising track which begins with a great beat. Kolenik’s vocals are spot on. His breathy, airy vocals compliment the pleasant drum beat and wonderfully layered synth sounds. The way the chorus ‘So-oo-oo-ophie’ is sung will instantly stick in your head and leave you wanting more. For the first time on the album, the acoustic guitar can be heard clearly giving this song a much fresher feel.

Breathless is a stunner of a track which juxtaposes the sounds heard in the previous track, Sophie. It’s a dance track through and through. It kicks starts straight away, there’s no breaking you in gently here. The chorus, “For a moment/I was/No way/Breathless…” is incredibly catchy. Everything about this song screams summer parties and long sunny evenings. It seems Breathless also caught someone else’s attention…

As ever a band of many facets, Small Black and Stillwater Artisanal have joined forces to release an eponymous beer. For the second volume of the brewery’s Sensory Series, Stillwater created a black saison bearing Small Black’s name. Brian Stillwater, of Stillwater Artisanal, says: “After many listens to the new album we agreed on the track ‘Breathless’ as inspiration for the beer. The tune instantly jumped out as a summer anthem and reminded me of my days as a electronic music producer & DJ. Uplifting pads, soothing vocals, and a solid 4/4 kick give the song a powerful drive while still maintaining its beauty and elegance.

“In constructing the accompanying beverage I took a similar direction – a dark black beer that maintains the elegance of the song. I decided on a base of German malts and a debittered roasted barley to provide more dark colour with very little actual roast flavour. German Hallertau hops are used to create a smooth bitterness and spicy, floral aroma. And while the beer is black, it’s extremely light bodied, fermented with Belgian yeast for a dry, slightly fruity, spicy finish at 5% ABV. Perfect for those late night summer parties.”

Purchase of the beer includes a QR code to view a live video of Breathless. Filmed at 285 Kent in Brooklyn and Ovvio Arte in Nashville, with live recording from 285 Kent and footage from Ian Perlman, the video takes you inside Small Black’s energetic & entrancing live show. For more information visit

The whole of Limits of Desire is a magical, musical journey blending wonderfully layered and produced synth sounds with the fresh, whispered and airy vocals from Kolenik. Second from last track Shook Loves is the perfect example of Kolenik’s vocals which can be heard in all their glory as they stand at the forefront for a change. In Shook Loves, for the first time on the record, the music is stripped back to highlight those breathy yet perfectly pitched vocals. The relaxed vocals mixed with the dance inspired synth sounds makes Limits of Desire an excellent summer album. In every song, there are what seems hundreds of different sounds to be heard with each sound being pushed forward to centre stage at different times. It’s a carefully crafted record. All the songs are great summer anthems and they all deserve to be heard and repeated many, many times over. You won’t be disappointed.

Limits of Desire is available now for pre-order at SC DistributioniTunesAmazon and your local record store.


1 Comment

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One response to “Small Black Limits of Desire Review

  1. Pingback: #NewMusicTuesday – May 14th | Music Streetlight

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