Comprised of lead vocalist Sean Seaver (Boston College '16), drummer Chris Southiere (Berklee '16), synth player and sample curator Adam Dubuc (URI '16), bassist Conor Gallagher (Boston College '16), and vocalist Zoe Ainsburg (Berklee '16), Small Talk is a BC-based band with a unique indie sound—a sound on display yet again with the release of their latest EP, The Steal.
Released yesterday, this latest offering from Small Talk strives to demonstrate the realization of a sound long in the making. In regards to the band’s debut EP, Us Kids, Seaver revealed, “I hate the first EP, I cringe when I hear it. On The Steal we come into our own I think. We are more developed as a group but we still have a long way to go. This EP is the first batch of songs that I imagine I won't hate in hindsight.”
“Ellipse” kicks things off well, and Small Talk’s psychedelic, effect-driven sound is easily recognizable. Seaver’s up-swinging vocal style shines through Dubuc's rewinding backing sample very uniquely while Southiere’s drums are steady and driving, almost pulsating. Gallagher dominates the low end of the sonic spectrum with an extremely catchy bass riff, serving to ground the swirly, rising nature of the track. Dripping with effects to cultivate an ambient feel, the track’s psychedelic influence is prominent and clearly draws on popular bands like Tame Impala.
“Incandescent” offers a strong follow up, and can easily be described as one of the two major pillars of the EP. Use of effects is again certainly on display in the phase shifting, syrupy reverb, and overall lo-fi feel. In the middle of the track is the triggering of what Seaver dubs the "Woodland Critter Pop," a sample made by "banging on a couch, books, and a desk with drum sticks, some acoustic guitar and some synth, delay and an ambient vocal, and also some field recordings from my family this past thanksgiving." Lyrically, nature-related imagery further cultivates a "lucid dream" listening experience:"Blue awake / Oh in my dreams / Or river runs into a stream / Secluded under morning sun / Maybe I am someone..."
Serving as a brief interlude, “Seomthign” allows the listener a fleeting glimpse into the effect-free guitar of Seaver, providing an interesting contrast to the previous demonstrations of Small Talk’s heavily effect driven sound.
In “Undercover,” the vocals take a momentary back seat, allowing the effect-free piano of featured artist Chris Vu and the simple yet steady drumming of Southiere to emerge from the depths of the feedback-reminiscent vocoder backing sample. The contrast is both engaging and beautiful, a balancing of synthesis and acoustic. Ainsburg and Seaver croon as the piano slowly builds into fleeting arpeggios that drive the second half of the track. Most importantly demonstrated in "Undercover" is the notion that Small Talk doesn’t only rely on effect-driven instruments to translate their psychedelic musical vision—they are perfectly capable of doing so with an un-effected piano feature.
“Zelda” serves as the second pillar of the EP, although it stands slightly taller than “Incandescent,” its other truly long form counterpart. Commencing with a field recorded sampling of children at play, "Zelda" induces a relaxed, full-body sluggishness in the dazed LFO experience. The kaleidoscopic backing sample is particularly engaging, and leaves oneself grasping at random instances of the intricate layers, only to find themselves drawn away yet again. This enigmatic quality is further demonstrated lyrically: "I don't want to know how this goes / Can you let me know what you chose?" For Seaver, "it's the best thing we've ever done," and the evidence is certainly present.
The success of The Steal truly resides in the details. Small Talk demonstrates a unique brand of artistry in their use of effects and samples to enhance their psychedelic sound, thus allowing them to avoid falling into the trap of forgetfulness frequented by generic college alt-rock bands. Through the use of extensively layered and intricate sampling, things like the "Woodland Critter Pop" allow for an complex musical experience that spans past the initial listen, leaving minute, initially unrecognized details open for discovery upon rewind.
Admittedly, these small details have the potential to be easily overlooked by a purely casual or less informed listener, but when approached seriously, the experience is thoroughly enjoyable. In the way they present their sound and image, though, it seems difficult to claim that Small Talk is ultimately concerned with being accessible to the masses, and the inconclusiveness of the listening experience seems almost to be the objective rather than a consequence.
More importantly, however, is Small Talk’s effort to create a listening experience in which the listener can immerse themselves. While The Steal demonstrates trance-inducing synths, intricate resampling, ambient vocal harmonies, pulsating drums, and catchy base riffs, the band does so in a way that allows all of the instruments to work together to create a colorful blend, as opposed to featuring one at a time. In the utilization of this tactic, Small Talk avoids allowing any one particular instrument to draw your focus too far astray, forcing you to focus on the overarching evolution of the music.