Small Sins could be a guilty pleasure or just a fine accompaniment to your late summer state of mind.
Small Sins is the musical project of Thomas D'Arcy, a Canadian musician who was previously making music as the Ladies and Gentlemen. The name of his new project came from that band's release, and in fact as far as I can tell, Small Sins is a re-release of the same work, this time on Astralwerks. Last year the album got some praise from discerning sources, and this time around the likeable chamber electro-pop sound still appeals; it's just that the intervening half-year's dulled a little of the newness, as indie electro has moved a little away from Postal Service's no-edged synths and into dirtier electro territory.
But before you write off Small Sins as another band in the long line that owes a debt to Postal Service, know that the record's scope is purposefully smaller -- D'Arcy is concerned with perfectly expressing the intricate details of emotion through electro-pop rather than creating soaring cliche-driven hyperballads. Still, if the smooth vocals and the hum of rounded synth fading into the background make you think of Ben Gibbard's Death Cab side-project, you won't be alone. It's most evident on songs like "Too Much To Lose", which sacrifice structural inventiveness for the sake of the lyrics. In general, a more pertinent comparison would be Au Revoir Simone's rounded synth-pop, though Small Sins is less peacefully melancholy. Check out "Threw It All Away", with its late-period Simon & Garfunkel chorus, to take one example.
Small-scale experiments are characteristic: the vocals on "At Least You Feel Something" sound like they've been recorded in a bathroom -- a metallic echo off a tiled wall -- and it reminds you why people don't record in bathrooms, or stairwells, though when you bellow out "The Last Goodbye" in the shower it may sound boomingly glorious. Elsewhere, D'Arcy smothers the microphone, enveloping it with his warm, dull voice.
Really, Small Sins is an electric piano pop project that churns out, at best, the kind of unobtrusive music that gets picked up by savvy TV programmers of youth-oriented dramas: the music's soft-edged enough for television, but the angst appeals to the teenager in us still. "Stay" is perhaps the standout from this perspective, the album's most immediately catchy song, and most conventionally pop, too. Better, D'Arcy does a nice job of capturing the want you/don't want you dichotomy of post-love -- "You can stay if you want to / But you can't stay in my bed". "She’s the Source" brings to mind the classic bit from Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry David says "Sophia Loren was once a source … I know my sources"; but in a case of art taking something funny and torturing it into relevance, the song actually works, a sweet and harmonic love letter-ballad.
Where Small Sins falls a little short is through over-use of repetition. Listening to the disc, you may get a slight feeling of déjà vu -- because each chorus can come to sound quite similar. "It's Easy" has the same multi-tracked emphasis as "Stay", for example. And "We Won't Last the Winter" suffers from internal poaching, as the song stutters around a single rhythmic idea, without building on the material at all. The upshot of this is that after you've listened to the CD the whole way through, you're conscious of having had a pleasant experience, but any specific tune is left floating off somewhere in the air behind you, foggy and unspecific.
If Small Sins wasn't quite so purposefully limited it could almost be disposable; but the investigation of love, adolescent fascination and wonder is examined on such a micro-scale that our expectations are altered. Minimal but incurably sweet, Small Sins could be a guilty pleasure or just a fine accompaniment to your late summer state of mind.