Smallpools are if The Chainsmokers were actually good. I don’t dare question why B-Sides & Badlands contributor Dylan Charles’ claims the latter act’s debut full-length Memories…Do Not Open is one of the year’s best albums ⎯⎯ music is as subjective as which hideously fabulous Christmas sweater you want to wear to your boss’ holiday party. No matter how you much you resist: you will be white-girl wasted, so does it really matter what you’re wearing? That brings us to Smallpools’ well-conditioned, glossy and decidedly-chill new EP, The Science of Letting Go, which appears to be as much a statement about their departure from RCA last year as it is about starting over. “It’s not like this exciting naive tornado like the first EP [2013’s self-titled], which I would say its more like a very bouncy and jubilant. There is a kind of calmness to this,” frontman Sean Scanlon described the set, which follows their first long player, 2015’s LOVETAP!.
Even in the stormy, subdued nature, there remains monstrous pop hooks ⎯⎯ coming off a cut with The Chainsmokers called “Break Up Every Night,” that’s to be expected. “Million Bucks” zeros in on clean-shaven escapism, while “Centerfold” (the scintillating centerpiece of the record) sinks into society’s beauty standards, facing one’s own flaws and becoming comfortable in your own skin. “Trained, conditioned and framed, you know this pageant’s staged,” Scanlon fires off on the slick and shiny hook. Later, he plunges into a tropical house inferno on “Passenger Side,” in which he reminisces about those times “where I would steer from the passenger side, while you slip your bra from your ripped t-shirt ’cause it’s hot as a mother / Got sweat on each other, yeah / I miss those desert drives.”
Underneath the drowning, cutting waves on “Mother,” which races between stunning piano-based balladry and scorching, high-stakes gambling, Scanlon romances about an ex’s mother, akin to Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom.” But he exchanges the silly, transparently-OTT lyricism for something with meat on its bones. “Yeah, I might miss your mother. I fantasize about her sometimes,” he ponders. The toxicity of their relationship, which inevitably lures him back in somehow, finally boiled over. “So, tell me why if I’m as bad as all those things you call me every night, you want me in your life just to drag around. I’m never living up to what you thought you found,” he argues, the stark vocal vibrating through a cathedral-like echo chamber.
Scanlon, Mike Kamerman and Beau Kuther’s new collection, which also contains the funky, Justin Timberlake-triggering “DJs & Porches,” doesn’t quite have the same lasting impressions as their previous work, but damn if you won’t have the best time in the world.
Grade: 3 out of 5
The Science of Letting Go is out now on iTunes, and you can spin the EP below, via Spotify:
Photo credit: Anna Lee