After several years of performing sporadically under the name Blue Of Colors, Steve Soboslai of Punchline has finally released his first full-length solo record. While it’s not uncommon for frontmen to take their solo projects along similar lines they’ve already trekked and found to be successful, it’s those records that find musicians proving themselves to be adept at different styles that make for the most satisfying listens. Small Little Pieces certainly falls into the latter category, eschewing the largely upbeat pop-punk of Punchline for an indie pop-rock sound that is entirely more mature without losing any of the emotion or charm of Steve’s past work.
Though short, “This Is A Story” does a fantastic job of setting the tone for the rest of the record. It’s almost like a thesis statement, explaining how each each chapter of Small Little Pieces relates back to the spark of a dismantled relationship. Piano and ambient notes provide a spacious atmosphere for Steve’s reserved description of that relationship, and, just as the first movement ends, “Watch Your Mouth” kicks in with driving drums, an indie guitar line, and swirling synths. As everything cuts away, save the kick drum, high hat, and a buoyant bass line, Steve’s voice comes in with infectious hook after infectious hook. The track is fantastically composed, with each element coming through masterfully to reach its full effect, from the setup of each chorus to the variation of the instrumental breaks to the playfulness of the rhyme scheme. The buildup to the ending makes for a perfect transition into “They Always Come Back,” which opens with a brief guitar part that’s reminiscent of Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing” before the bass takes center stage. It’s clear even this early on that the record is strong from a production perspective, with plenty of clarity in the instrumental parts and performances that simply sound great. “They Always Come Back” finds its greatest power in the layered minimalist guitars and vocal harmonies throughout, with select lyrics and the guitar solo providing further bright spots.
While I’m a bigger fan of the acoustic version of “Coordinates,” the string arrangement of this version (performed by Magik*Magik Orchestra) is marvelous, if a touch prettier than necessary. When the drums kick in at full strength for the second verse, it gives the song the extra edge it needs, and the modulations toward the end of the track adds enough dark intrigue to make for a really interesting change from what we’ve previously heard of the song. From a lyrical perspective, the song takes a message similar to that of “Whatever I Want, Whenever I Want” from Delightfully Pleased and focuses it down to a relationship with one other person. “Your Face” balances a warm tone with lyrics that border just on the other side of positive, with lines like “I’m trapped in Eastern time” and “you seem to be content, but less than 7 out of 10” giving insight to the true state of affairs. While the recurring “hey, hey” motive and idea of “your face in my mind” can come off as romantic and dream-like, there’s more to the story than what you’ll find on the surface.
Between the synths, vocal effect, and overall expansive sound, the opening of “Diving Down” embraces watery imagery and expresses it sonically. The bridge on this song is one of the best on the record, with the lines “I was in love with your melody, I thought I was your harmony” combining with a powerful melody and great drum part to make for an incredible moment. Barely Blind‘s Bradley Cuccio adds an extra flavor to the record, with his vocals giving a nice contrast to Steve’s for a final verse. I’ve been in love with “Goodbye Stranger” from the first time I heard it two years ago, and it’s still one of my favorite things Steve has ever written. Every note of this song is executed flawlessly. The lyricism is fantastic, and the closing message of “what seems so heavy, in a year won’t mean a thing” embodies the sort of maturity and perspective that can only come with experience and time. If you’re going to check out a single song from Small Little Pieces this should be the one you pick.
At one time, the pop-culture references that litter “Edward Norton” didn’t catch my ear quite right, but the lyrics have a quirky charm that has allowed them to grow on me over time, and the undeniably infectious hook of the chorus makes for the most fun you’ll have when listening to Small Little Pieces. If you can sit still for the duration of this song, you should probably check to see if your volume’s actually on or if you accidentally muted it, because something’s wrong with that scenario. “Jenn’s Song” is a great listen from an instrumental perspective, but the weakness of almost all non-chorus lyrics really causes the track to suffer. There’s plenty of great guitar work throughout, and the bass line works wonderfully with the drums, but overall, this song is probably the worst on the record.
In contrast to “Jenn’s Song,” “The Act Of Being Silent” stands as one of the brightest points of Small Little Pieces. The lyricism is open and personal, introspective and reflective. This song clearly comes from a very real place, and the structure of the track does those emotions and thoughts justice. Synths drive much of the instrumentation, providing both space and density, in appropriate amounts. The drums and bass, though used somewhat minimally, serve to drive the feel of the song, and the way that the music leaves space for the lyrics at the opening and close of the track is executed very effectively. While this is perhaps the furthest thing from what I expected to hear on the record, it’s close to the top in terms of quality. “Ghost Town” ends the record in a somewhat subdued fashion, with an expansive atmospheric sound, birds chirping, few lyrics, and a drum beat that’s set to a pace that’s perfect for walking and feels as if it was made for moving on. As a bookend for the album, the amount of space in the composition allows for the ideas and stories from the previous ten tracks to float around your mind and mingle with one another as the record comes to a close. Though it’s not the sort of song that one might pick to listen to on its own, it works perfectly as the closing entry of Small Little Pieces, and ties everything together well.
While those who have been following Steve’s work are sure to be familiar with several of the songs on the record, what’s most striking about this release is how well these songs work thematically. I’d previously never really considered the idea that songs like “Your Face,” “Goodbye Stranger,” and “Edward Norton” might follow alongside a specific storyline; I was mostly concerned with merely listening to the songs individually. However, Small Little Pieces is an extremely cohesive collection. From the introductory “This Is A Story” through the last seconds of “Ghost Town,” this album takes you up and down, into and out of a relationship, with a decidedly mature perspective on the whole thing. There are plenty of little quirks and emotional moments to be found, but the defining message of the record is that things will even out and be okay. There’s settling down and there’s moving on. There will be joy and there will be heartbreak. These things build up and make us who were are, and, in the end, we’ll be alright. Small Little Pieces is steeped in this idea, and Steve has created his own world out of the thought. Each song is unique, but they all combine to develop a complete experience, and that quality is what makes this record more than just a collection of great songs and into something truly special.