The synth-laden, hand-clapping intro to "Dreaming" was certainly one of the highlights of 2013's summer. Every time the song's captivating chorus blasted out of my speakers, it was hard not to sing along to it. It's easy to see why Smallpools have gained such a following in the indie pop world; they've certainly got a real knack for penning addictive hooks and melodies. Unfortunately, the band's talents are masked behind a wall of overused electronic elements that hide the band's true potential. On songs like "Mason Jar" and "No Story Time", the sheer volume of the synths are loud to the point of irritation, and it's a prime reason why those two songs are among the EP's weakest.
Lead singer Sean Scanlon's vocals are reminiscent of fun.'s Nate Ruess, especially on tracks where the vocoder gets used ("It Gets Better", "Stars"). Both of their voices are high-pitched, and they tend to use similar vocal delivery. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing; Nate Ruess can be a great singer at times, but whenever I hear Scanlon’s vocals on this EP, I immediately think of Ruess. Of course, this comparison isn’t that obvious on “Dreaming” (it’s actually the track with the least Ruess influence), but on every other track, Scanlon tries so hard to emulate him. The band’s overall sound isn’t all that similar to fun. (they’re far too bouncy and happy), just the vocals.
The best thing about Smallpools is they know how to create catchy hooks. “Dreaming” is the best example of this, and its chorus in the main reason why the song is the best on the EP. The song is pretty damn addictive, and Beau Kuther’s drumming isn’t half bad. It’s no surprise that it turned out to be the band’s biggest hit (#23 on Billboard’s Alternative), and will definitely make the cut for their debut album. “Over and Over” also succeeds in this category, although its hook is a little bit too similar to “Dreaming” for its own good.
Unfortunately, the other two tracks just don’t do it for me. Scanlon’s vocal performance on “Mason Jar” is nothing short of grating, and the Oriental-sounding synth riff in the chorus is a failed attempt at experimenting. “No Story Time” is a decent song, but it’s ruined once again by cringe-worthy vocals in the hook. Whenever Scanlon tries to hit the high notes, it always ends up turning the whole song sour.
Overall, if you’re a fan of bouncy, dynamic indie pop á la Walk the Moon, you’ll probably enjoy Smallpools
. They sure do know how to write captivating hooks, and that instantly puts them ahead of bands like Grouplove and The Neighbourhood. However, vocalist Sean Scanlon can be a pretty weak singer when he wants to, and will wear songs down with his horrible performance. Smallpools
isn't innovative or groundbreaking, but if you take it for what it is, you'll probably find something to enjoy.