Listening to Small Black perform New Chain is like watching lovely but reclusive exotic fish wander around a fortified aquarium. There's a sense of distance in both scenarios: observe the mysterious creatures all you please, but their dialogue takes place underwater on a plane you're not privy to. Certainly don't expect the sensation of touch. This is how New Chain comes off as at first — a low-key debut populated by whistling blips, delicate drumbeats, and Josh Kolenik's half-audible murmurs, all resting on a cozy cushion where reality can't do them harm. But residing beneath the top layer of smoky "Casio dream noise pop" (Kolenik's description) is a tenderness that has been affected by life's miseries, and when the Brooklyn group dive headfirst into sad, sad sounds, they shine. Fragments of "Search Party" evoke the glummest post-punk; the breathy chorus of the celestial "Photojournalist" sums up what makes the band's spirit enticing: "Rise up again/Rise up again/Like a ghost." The only catch is that some songs are too reticent, with the spark of the melodies buried under zoned-out flotsam. (And if you go hunting for those melodies, you may find that not all are worth the search.) At this stage, Small Black are a charming but undeveloped outfit. Moving from an aquarium to a sea (or even a pond) would be an intriguing next step.
SMALL BLACK + CLASS ACTRESS + STEREO TELESCOPE | Great Scott, 1222 Comm Ave, Allston | November 21 at 9pm | 18+ | $10 | 617.566.9014 or greatscottboston.com