Album Review: Smallpools – “LOVETAP!”

As the album fever accusations continue to pour in, I need to make it clear that me saying something is “flipping the rap game on its head” is just an expression I say about pretty much everything. No, this isn’t the greatest album ever, and I’m not going to pull a Bowman and call it the best alternative dance/indie pop album of the past ten years.

Being released this Tuesday, March 24th on RCA records, it is, however, really good. And very unique; I can easily say I’ve never heard another sound like this.

Oh yes, and I have seen Smallpools live (and I certainly will again). They opened for Neon Trees last July at the House of Blues Boston. I honestly can not remember where/when I first heard Smallpools (I don’t play FIFA, but that’s where most people first heard them), but I do know that the only reason I went to that concert was because they were the opening act. After two songs, lead vocalist/keyboardist Sean Scanlon, the man whose appearance and subterranean voice does not lineup with those high notes, says, “For those of you who know us, you’ll know that we just tore through half of our catalogue”, much to the amusement of the knowledgable crowd.

At the time, all Smallpools had to show for was their eponymous, four-track EP. It’s hard to believe a four-track EP alone is what brought this band into the spotlight. So what did they play? Well, they played most of this album.

Setlist via setlist.fm
Setlist via setlist.fm

Or half of it. Still, I got an early preview. And they stole the show from Neon Trees.

But enough rambling, how about this album?

Well for starters, the EP as well as the two preceding singles “Killer Whales” and “Karaoke” are all on the album. The first seven tracks of this album are HOT. I can see myself dancing all night to these. Opener “American Love” shows that Smallpools hit “A” at the precise moment to get that boost they needed (Mario Kart reference). The string and keyboard crescendo at the intro, right as they begin to swirl into this chaotic jumble of sounds, drop into one of the most catchy intros to an album I’ve heard in a while. It’s not necessarily an epic intro, it’s just unique, almost foreign…but catchy as hell. And those lyrics right at the beginning,

“She doesn’t panic from the warning signs
She’s hiding under foreign cotton and sheets of ice
Until I come around and clear her mind
But I know who you are, so why don’t we start again”

They flow right with the music. In conclusion: phenomenal opening track.

Of the next six tracks, three are EP tracks (“Dreaming”, “Mason Jar”, “Over And Over”) and two are the aforementioned preceding singles. The other track, “Street Fight”, sounds like it was the music on a “Street Fighter” video game (with a splash of dance, of course). Not a bad things, it’s another fun, upbeat track.

What I don’t like about this album is the next five tracks. From the title track “Lovetap!” until “9 to 5”, it almost seems like all these tracks could be one. They all just flow together, I can’t really differentiate them from one another. This mainly could be because most of them are built around the use of one phrase, such as, “What’s that a picture of?”, and, “Admission to your party”, phrases that aren’t exactly hooky enough to sing along to.

I did say “sing”. My beef with these tracks is mostly lyrical. They’re compositionally different enough that I would still sweat my fluids out dancing to them. This is especially true on “9 to 5”, which has an intro with a guitar that’s out of tune (and also sounds like an early Vampire Weekend recording) and a weird drum pattern and strange arrangement, and… okay I fucking hate this song. It sucks.

But “9 to 5” is an isolated incident. Once you break through to “No Story Time”, the last of the beloved EP tracks, Smallpools is back in business. The build up:

“Whats the reason
Whats the reason you sought me out?
Sought me out
Forced to please them forced to be what they talk about
Talk about”

to the belting out of the chorus:

“Dont you leave me alone
Dont you let go!”

makes for the type of track we know these guys can write. It’s no doubt that the EP tracks are better than these album tracks, but the album is not a disaster by any means. Had the EP and preceding singles been spaced out a bit more, the album would’ve been the benefactor. Besides the lyrical drought in the second half (aside from “No Story Time”, of course) this is THE album everyone who listened to the EP has been waiting for. Closer “(Submarine)” ends LOVETAP! in a mysterious manner that really leaves the listener craving more. And more is exactly what this band can do. With this album, they’ve only scratched the surface of their potential.

Verdict: 7/10

Standout Tracks: “American Love”, “Dreaming”, “Over And Over”, “Mason Jar”, “No Story Time”, “Killer Whales”, “Street Fight”.

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