Small Reactions – RXN_002

Small Reactions willingly embrace the “nerve pop” tag, a descriptor cribbed from the Atlanta quartet’s 2011 single. And why not? It’s a fitting statement of intent given Small Reactions’ edgy, off-kilter yet approachable melodies.

Since 2014’s Similar Phantoms, Ross Politi has replaced Sam Jacobsen in Small Reactions’ lineup. The absence of Jacobsen’s full-time organist role means the Stereolab influences that dotted the band’s full-length debut have receded into the background. In their place, second guitarist Politi enables a pleasing blend of ringing notes and walls of controlled distortion, bringing to mind Atlanta scene contemporaries Omni, or at times early Deerhunter.

RXN_002 also slows the tempo more often than the debut, allowing for a more spacious and polished sound that draws attention to Scotty Hoffman’s voice – Hoffman’s warm tone reminds me of Hamilton Leithauser, even on the band’s more aggressive tracks. Although RXN_002 tilts slightly toward a pensive shoegaze vibe, fans of their earlier fast/loud side will happily embrace the likes of “Double Vision” and “Sessions Street.”

Then there’s the big winner: “Controllerhead,” a gauzy, majestic track dating back to Jacobsen’s final days in the band, which plays like a highlight from Ride’s Going Blank Again and teasingly doles out a brief chorus that I can’t get enough of.

Once upon a time, the entirety of Small Reactions backed up Atlanta’s Jeremy Underwood on Gold-Bears’ excellent sophomore LP Dalliance. The pairing makes perfect sense; Underwood’s “crash pop” is more caffeinated and less arty, but their shared DNA is audible. Given that Gold-Bears recorded for Slumberland Records, which also served as Stereolab’s original US home, the biggest surprise may be that RXN_002 wasn’t released on that fine, fuzzy label (the Bear Kids name is pure coincidence, I’m told). And that’s pretty high praise from these quarters.

Small Reactions
[Bear Kids Recordings]