Music Review: Small Apartments Secrets Within
Ultra-fuzzy and vaguely Mazzy Star-ish “Threads” best captures the epic energy of this band
Published: January 22, 2014
Twenty-somethings are always so nostalgic about their childhoods and 40-somethings about their 20’s that it’s impossible to escape the nostalgia industry. So everyone is going to talk about the 1990s when they talk about Small Apartments’ Secrets Within. But, as it happens, our memories aren’t really all that good and, in this case, what people would be calling the ’90s would be better described as the late ’80s. Aside from the fact that it’s all rock ’n’ roll, there’s nothing particularly grunge-like about Secrets Within. But you might hear echoes of Jane’s Addiction on the opening track, “Blind Vision,” or Sonic Youth on “You Never Dreamed.”
But it’s notable that both of these songs are sung by David Koslowski, who also plays guitar. The songs sung by his wife, Shirlé Hale, are far harder to place. But they are catchy as hell. Koslowski and Hale previously recorded under the name Free Electric State, and her songs here sound more like those on that band’s excellent 2012 album Monumental Life. Songs like “White Winter Birch” or “The Wire,” with their droning, thumping verses and soaring choruses sound both of the moment and like something you’ve heard all your life. When Hale sings “We won’t go back to hellfire/ we won’t return back to the wire,” you don’t know if she’s bucking historical comparisons and referring to Wire, the classic ’70s band; to David Simon’s show; or something altogether different, but it doesn’t matter and you entirely believe her as she yells “ain’t gonna stop us now” over Koslowski’s thrumming guitar and Greg Dohler’s propulsive drums.
Hale is no slouch on the bass either, as her hypnotic groove on “Hackles Up” amply demonstrates. This song may best demonstrate what is so compelling about this album. Opening with an isolated drumbeat, then layering on the spooky/sexy bass, then the fuzz guitar, and finally Hale’s keening “If you break my heart/ I won’t fall apart. Call me on the phone/ I won’t be alone.” The lyrics aren’t earth-shatteringly original (though they get more disturbing in the second verse when she sings “If you break my head/ leave me here for dead”), but there is a classic power in their simplicity that, once again, comes out when she sings “You can’t stop it” in a way that anyone anywhere will identify with at some point.
Or maybe the ultra-fuzzy and vaguely Mazzy Star-ish “Threads” best captures the epic energy of this band, especially toward the end, when the high notes of Koslowski’s guitar start to wail beneath Hale’s howl, and when Dohler’s drums hold it all together.
Or maybe it’s “Violent Bright Sound,” whose title certainly captures the feel of the band. The fact is, I’ve had this record on repeat for weeks and really love every song on it.
Koslowski and Hale moved down South for a spell and we’re lucky to have them back home because they don’t sound like any other era so much as they sound like Baltimore right now. ()
Small Apartments play with Weekends and Wing Dam at the Ottobar on Jan. 25. To hear “Hackles Up” visit citypaper.com/smallapartments
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