Smaller Hearts
Honestly

by Jim Di Gioia

July 29, 2019

Honestly is as smooth as glass on its surface, but teeming with vitality below.

Cool as a freon-filled air conditioner and dry as a moistureless basement, Smaller HeartsHonestly offers respite from summer’s imposing heat and heaviness.

Dartmouth-based duo Kristina Parlee and Ron Bates have long been students of the electro-pop golden age, borrowing the best bits of new wave stalwarts like Pet Shop Boys, Human League, and Depeche Mode in a way that sounds modern and fresh. Scattered about these eleven tracks are hints of the scrappier sounds from their previous incarnation Homo Duplex. All these elements, along with Parlee and Bates’s alternating lead vocals, combine in what at first sounds like formulaic synth-pop but in time reveals the complexities and intricacies programmed just below the surface.

“Perennials” is the spring thaw that shakes Honestly awake, a laser-shot ode that counts down (or up?) to summer’s sunny fun. “Low Orbit” uses cheap-sounding synths to richly colour in the song’s minimal outline. In a way, it reminds me of the demo feature on those old Casio keyboards sold in department store toy aisles at Christmas time, except a thousand times easier to listen to on repeat. “Best Guesses” and “Degrees” revel with old school electro-pop style, elevated by Smaller Hearts’ nostalgic, wistful melodies.

Parlee and Bates duet on closer “Felt Time”, a quirky, off-kilter tune with the wildest drum sounds this side of Suuns. Their call-and-response singing harkens back to “Don’t You Want Me” if it were sung with a mild cannabis buzz after an August day loafing on a dock on a pristine lake. Like a still lake, Honestly is as smooth as glass on its surface, tranquil and translucent; but below its calm facade, it’s a record teeming with vitality and life. It’s the kind of album just begging you to dive in.

Jim Di Gioia

CoFounder at DOMINIONATED
Jim founded the music blog Quick Before It Melts in 2006 and was its principal writer until 2016, when its decade-long run ended 10 years to the day it started. DOMINIONATED is its spiritual successor. Jim currently serves as a Polaris Music Prize jurist and Prism Prize jurist.
Jim Di Gioia