The music of Portland synth-pop duo Small Million is in a constant state of motion, as if each verse and chorus and surrounding arrangement were waltzing parallel to one another in a series of loping rhythmic dalliances. This sense of musical movement does make sense once you realize that co-conspirators Malachi Graham and Ryan Linder met on the dancefloor at a club in Portland. A then-recent LA transplant, Linder was still new to the area and looking for someone to balance and compliment his own synths-and-samples melodic tendencies, and he found that collaborator in Graham, a Portland native whose background includes a history with Americana and singer-songwriter aesthetics.
They began their tenure together by emailing voice memos back and forth to one another, which eventually led to the creation of their first single, “Six Feet.” After receiving some recognition by being included on the “PDX Pop Now!” compilation in 2014, they dug their heels and hands into the heart of Portland’s music scene and quickly gained a following for their spirited live performances and melody-rich songs. They continued to wrestle with the idea of what Small Million could be until the release of their debut EP, “Before the Fall,” in June of 2016 cemented their evocative hybrid of electronic and organic sounds.
On their recently released sophomore EP, “Young Fools,” Graham and Linder blend a gorgeous and complicated mixture of heartfelt lyricism and overwhelming emotionality with moody dream-pop atmospheres and euphoric soundscapes. The sound is both familiar in it evocation of overpowering sentiment and refreshing divergent in the way it approaches these feelings. By melding their respective histories, they’re created something that rises above simple influence and basic characterization. This is music infused with life, the good parts and the bad. This is music born from experience and ache and love. They are able to work through all of the world’s angles from within their timeless dream-soaked musical atmospheres, and they allow us a brief glimpse into this persuasive and staggering rhythmic perspective.
Recently, Graham and Linder took some time with The Southern Sounding to discuss a few of their favorite and most influential records. Check out their choices and thoughts below.
Yeasayer - “All Hour Cymbals”
“Few albums have hit me so deeply and immediately as Yeasayer's first album did when I first heard it over a decade ago. The group's sound has evolved over the years, and I have loved every iteration, but there is something so unique about “All Hours Cymbals,” especially in the context of when it was released. Every album since could be considered electronic pop music but this album was more in vein of Fleet Foxes, if Fleet Foxes ate a little too much acid: dark, catchy melodies, chanted harmonies, tribal drums, hypnotic guitars, and lyrics about flying into and becoming one with the sun.” -Ryan
Hundred Waters - “Communicating”
“Unlike their previous album, I had to spend a little bit more time with “Communicating” to fully appreciate it. Now I consider it one of my favorite albums. It waivers from dance-y to melancholic, uplifting to hear aching, all while consistently filling my body with those tingly goose pimples. I am a sucker for the sentimental, especially when evoked via synthesizers and angelic vocals. I also really appreciate that in the age of singles, I dig every single track on the album.” -Ryan
Neko Case - “Blacklisted”
“This album was in heavy rotation in my parents’ house when I was a kid and I think Neko Case’s voice seeped in to my creative soul. I still can’t get enough of the way Neko’s voice and lyrics are the powerful centerpiece of this record with the rest of the sounds swirling around them. It’s this dark and atmospheric world with her powerful voice in the middle conducting it all. "I Wish I Was The Moon" is lonesome perfection.” -Malachi
The Carter Family - “The Essential Carter Family”
“I originally discovered the music of the Carter Family around campfires at sing-alongs, but when I finally heard the crackly intoxicating original recordings I was hooked. Sarah’s low, masculine voice, Maybelle’s brilliant simultaneous lead-and-rhythm-guitar, A.P.’s occasional low monotone harmonies, the weird dark twisted stories in these songs… I also love reading biographies and stories about the Carter Family, which gives the songs extra meaning for me. The recordings reflect such a specific time and place, but they’ve also influenced generations of country musicians.” -Malachi
Clem Snide - “End of Love”
“The frontman of Clem Snide, Eef Barzelay, has been one of my favorite songwriters and lyricists since before I knew I wanted to write songs. Eef is incredible at writing simple catchy songs that balance humor and poignance, and the latter usually sneaks up on you in a way I love. It’s hard to pick a favorite album from him because they all have some true gems, but 2005’s “End of Love” was on heavy rotation in my high school years, especially the brilliant “Made for TV Movie” and wry “Something Beautiful.” -Malachi