Fan favorite adult performer Small Hands returns to music-making in lockdown—creating a series of powerful synth-heavy tracks that speak to these isolated times, whilst offering some solace in the process.
Recorded at home with the barest essentials (primarily a mid-2000s Yamaha M08 synth keyboard), Empty Streets (the musical nom de plume of adult performer Small Hands) builds on the formula of his stripped-back 2014 ballad “All Night Long.” Yet, despite its minimalist approach, Demons is anything but simple. The six song EP is a collection of layered, complex tracks to sink into.
From the first song “Possess Your Head,” we are submerged in deep synth story about strained love; it’s clear that this is headphones music, lie-down-with-your-eyes-closed music, take a break music—with soaring electro-orchestral overtures, 80s melodies and deep bass undertones.
Second track “Save Me” moves into more definite synthwave territory, with a driving video game melody that recalls retro synth artists Com Truise and Kavinsky (who featured on the soundtrack for the film Drive). Its moody 80s drive-at-night-through-the-mist sound carries serious lyrics around past pain and introspection: “have you seen what’s become of me? / save me / from the old abusers / save me / from the new recruiters.”
“Make You Stay’” is a similarly moody retro outing, peppered with angsty lyrics and an entertainingly loud bass beat. “Dance With You” continues this narrative thread, placed within a happy pop anthem that encourages you to jump up and spin in circles with your arms outstretched rather than dwell on the message. By the time the guitar kicks in in the final third of the track I guarantee you’ll be dancing.
Title track “Demons” doubles down on the gothic 80s soundtrack vibe with driving power chords and counter-Christian lyrics: “there’s no remorse / no hallelujah / no written scripture’s gonna fix this mess we’ve made” (made more poignant when you remember Small Hands is the son of a preacher).
Final track “Love Will Remember” is the most modern on the EP—with a lighter pop sound, more like Chvrches’ take on synth, and is the weakest for it—unfortunately missing the power and layered complexity of the previous tracks.
Overall, this is a gorgeous adventure in synth—a playfully retro, yet heartfelt rock story that’s well worth a listen. Just ensure you wear headphones, turn it up, and let it blissfully drown everything else out, for a while at least.