• Jesse Stowe

#HotTake Review - Small Black: 'Cheap Dreams'


(Photo Credit - Caroline Mathis)


Review - Small Black: Cheap Dreams (April 9, 2021)


Small Black was at the forefront of Chillwave. However, the band is releasing Cheap Dreams under 100% Electronica, an independent label focusing on a microgenre of electronic music called vaporwave. The subgenre is a new term to me, but I was immediately and without apology nostalgically taken to the eighties. More specifically, to the family of John Hughes’s soundtracks. Let me take you through the album the best way I know how.

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“Tampa” – Call to Adventure

”Down in Tampa/looking at these blue cranes…In my jaw/in my bones/Lord knows we can’t even be happy here.”


“Duplex” – Refusal of the Call

“Walking in the house alone/pray on the ottoman…Locked in there just because/where there is only one/one is enough…And it feels like it always does/And it feels like it always does/Low.”

“Postcard” – The Belly of the Whale

“This is where we live/Nothing we can do about it…We don’t choose the place we start/have fun wherever you are/I know it’s not that far.”


“Waterworks” – The Road of Trials


“Driftwood Fire” – The Meeting of the Goddess

“Maybe you were out there?/Maybe I was out there?/just keep on riding/where you are…Driftwood fire/leads you/from the water/leads you.”

“The Bridge” – Atonement

“I’m on/the bridge again…In the deep sand/Way out where/Man, I’m gutting this out/However I can.”


“Service Merchandise” - Apotheosis

“You said I was useless/but could half ass the job/You said I’m the human torch/burning up the clock…Maybe next summer/we head down the shore…We could meet up in/the parking lot/Was that you there in/the parking lot?”


“Cheap Dreams” – The Ultimate Boon

“I was waging war/that I can’t afford/Never felt the pain/but I knew the cost…Yeah, I never said that I was brave/there’s just more shit that/I can take.”


“Nobody Love You” – Refusal of Return

“I listen to the night in our house/try to forget…Seasons of/death and rain/Yeah, this was a shaky deal/but it’s the one that we made.”


“10 Dunes” - The Magic Flight


“Song to Ruin” – The Master of the Two Worlds

“No, I don’t have any/time left to pretend/We don’t live in the/heaven on earth building…it’s your song to ruin/but I can help you through it…ya ain’t gonna make it out alone/Just stay awake long as it takes.”

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Ok, two things. Number one, I do not want to take away from the music here. The more I listened to the album, the more the music infiltrated my thoughts. I simplified the sound to 80’s, but along with the lyrics, it tells a complete story. Sound is mood, and Small Black uses the music to drive the lyric and plot.


Number two, I accept that this is possibly the nerdiest album review I have ever written. However, as I explained in the prior paragraph, the music and lyrics led my emotions and thoughts. At a loss for any other way to describe the album, I reverted to what I know best, storytelling.


Cheap Dreams can be described as the life chased after everything is taken away. It does not translate into settling. Cheap Dreams is fighting when reality kicks in and the world expects you to give up. However, you lean on those who offer any support and take what you can. The sadness comes from those who know you and wish you could have won the entire world.


Final Thought: I respect this album on many levels. The love lying beneath it needs to be shared. Thank you, Small Black, for digging into the emotional depths and bringing forth this diamond.


Favorite Songs: “Tampa,” “Driftwood Fire,” and “Song to Ruin.”


Rating - 5/5 – This could be a defining album for the band


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