Saxophonist-composer Alex Burgoyne’s art-pop band Small Songs release their long-awaited debut album Hey on Saturday, February 11th, at Ethel’s in Short North Stage’s Garden Theatre (Facebook invite). The record has a slightly different lineup with Fran Litterski on vocals (Devin Copfer currently and at the release) and Kyle Tucker on guitar (currently Andrew Sais) backing Burgoyne and a rhythm section of Josh Bryant on bass and Dan DiPiero on drums.
Hey hits its sweet spot when it zooms in on tiny brushstrokes, giving the listener the full picture in glimpses and flashes. The band’s name is almost a feint, a calculated lowering of expectations to hide the fact it has a stiletto aimed right for the listener’s lizard brain. The record uses calm to imply the way we mask our discontent and how close to the surface we keep what we try to conceal.
Pulsing bass and skittering drums on “Finally Home/The Lake” build sturdy, deceptively simple structures underneath the vocal’s deadpan longing. That voice, ringed by chiming guitar, reaches through the minimal words and implies an unsettled quality not put to rest by the object of the voice’s attention finally returning home; that unfulfilled, displaced sensation bursts with sunlight on the coda about rivers running to the lake and “Gee, what fun it is to swim.” “Oscar (He Looked Out the Window)” distills of that achingly slow and repetitive quality with only the last five words of the title repeated as cells of music pop and spark against one another under the vocal.
Some of the songs are more on the nose in their depictions of loneliness and frustration. “I Wish” opens “I wish I were here with someone else. Days like these, they crawl by so slowly with you,” punctuated by a twangy splash of Tucker’s guitar. That feeling is accentuated by the build up of tension on the instruments and then their sudden dissipation so just saying those words out loud is throwing a rock in a pond. “Don’t Forget I Loved You,” has a terrific little bounce on its hook with the music surging, shining a cleansing light of hope in sun-dappled harmonies between sax and guitar.
Small Songs reminds us that restraint doesn’t have to be monochromatic. “New Shoes” pairs a sultry swing with Litterski’s vocal and bells wreathed in Burgoyne’s smoky sax and a lyric clearly from the point of view of a child. There’s a sensual pleasure in finding new shoes after you’ve been making do for so long that this song precisely captures. “Hey” surges out of the gate, all intensity and nervous energy with some terrific sax playing and a big, juicy bass line. Those pieces fall together as it slips into almost a come on, “Hey, how are you today?”
This record is a unique synthesis of its influences and stuffed full of melodies that will remain lodged in the heads of listeners for some time. At the February 11 show it will be available for $10 a CD and available online thereafter at Bandcamp.