Review: Smallpools—'So Social' Showcases "consistently infectious songwriting"

After their debut album LOVETAP! was released in early 2015, Smallpools seemingly disappeared. The record came two years after their self-titled EP,  But they resurfaced in mid-2017 with THE SCIENCE OF LETTING GO, an EP that demonstrated the growth from their previous release. Now, a little over a year later, they’ve moved from Los Angeles to Nashville, and they’re back with SO SOCIAL, an EP that showcases Smallpools’ consistently infectious songwriting.

SO SOCIAL opens with the burst of energy that is “Social,” and it sets the standard for the rest of the EP. It’s straight pop, and it presents a clash between its lyricism and music: a track like this might suggest a night out with both its title and the bouncing keys and claps, but “Social” is the opposite. It deals with the decision to stay in. It’s almost expected to be social at any given moment, to have a night out and live in that extroversion, but that night out can be too much for too little. Smallpools are so pulled in two directions: Do they stay home, or do they subject themselves to a night that they know they’ll want to be away from in the end?

Can’t fake it anymore / If you can hear this now / Bow out, save yourself
They push the listener toward staying home because it’s not worth going out. It’s self care in doing what is better for yourself, and the joyous nature of the music fits the mood of staying in and taking care of yourself instead of forcing yourself out.

The introversion of “Social” is followed with the aftermath of a night out. The leading single off the EP is the percussion-heavy “Stumblin’ Home,” which was released in late May. (Not featured on the EP is an alternate version that the band recorded with The Aces, and it’s seriously worth the listen.)

Its music video has a home video-meets-classic-Nintendo-arcade feel to it, which fits the track itself pretty well. It begins in a bar, and the protagonist has three lives: three chances to make the right decision once he steps outside. Each time, though, he fails, losing a life and restarting before failing once again. The events that lead to his reset range from urinating on the sidewalk to getting Maced to being abducted by actual aliens. The game ends in the protagonist kissing the woman who he has been pining over throughout the chorus (“I’m stumblin’ home and I’m thinking about you”). This can be taken as a win, and at closing, the song shifts into a very short 8-bit version of itself. It’s all easy, pleasant fun.

Downtown Fool Around” is, unlike its predecessors, less pop and more grit. The energy comes more from the guitar riffs and well-layered backing vocals than from Scanlon’s vocals, which are flatter and more downplayed in comparison to the rest of the EP. It flexes the band’s musicality by proving that there’s more to them than what “Dreaming” and that sort of indie pop sound that we all know and love is.
In “People Watching,” Smallpools emphasize simplicity:

Don’t take much to have some fun / Grab your shades and we’ll do some people watching
While the lyrics dip into fantastically cheesy territory (“Keep all your designer drugs / I just wanna smoke your love”), context is key: Here is the speaker with someone they care deeply about, and it is enough. They find joy in the mundane because it is less about the act itself than it is the fact that they are people watching with this particular person. The wholesome lyricism here brings another dimension to the song, and it moves far from the very early (and maybe not-so-wholesome) mention of cocaine.

“Beggar,” slotted last on SO SOCIAL, stands entirely on its own. It opens with tuning static, and it draws pretty clearly from hip hop beats, with choppy hi-hats, deep bass notes, and slick-sounding brass. In a way, and particularly in the chorus, the musicality is still identical to what you might find in other Smallpools tracks; still, this one pushes further. It’s experimental in a way that makes it exactly the kind of growth I like to see from artists, but there is still a sort of reservation to it where it doesn’t stray too far away from what Smallpools are. While it would have been even more surprising had it pushed through that slight hesitation, it’s still my favorite off of the EP and makes for an incredible closing track.

I like to hover just above rock bottom / So I never fall farther than an apple in autumn
With every release, Smallpools show us more and more what they are capable of. Though they do continue to have a specific sound, their music evolves in a way that makes each release stronger than its last. SO SOCIAL shows this growth from what listeners may have expected from the EP, and it is completely fulfilling. You can listen to the EP on Spotify and wherever else you might stream music. They’re touring the East Coast in March, and you can find those headline dates here.


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