January 19, 2011

Test Spins: Smith Westerns

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Hotly tipped Chicago-based glam-rock revivalists the Smith Westerns are everything a band primed for ripening should be: young (all the members are between 18 and 20 years old), experienced (they released their positively reviewed self-titled, lo-fi debut in 2009) and they’ve earned the respect of a certain influential, king-making, farming-related indie music site. On Dye It Blonde the band cleans up its act, but was the lo-fi recording obscuring their talents or excusing their own shortcomings?

Owing sonically and stylistically to both T. Rex and ’90s Britpop stalwarts such as Oasis and Supergrass, the Smith Westerns play the kind of garage-nodding power pop that drips with melody, traditional chord changes and some of the best lead guitar tones heard since Free Energy’s rollicking 2010 debut Stuck on Nothing. Cullen Omori’s voice thrives amid the ramped-up production, delicately but confidently carrying youth-affirming mantra after youth-affirming mantra to melodic climax. Creamy synths flesh out spunky garage rock and Beatlesesque ballads, adding gravity and texture to what could be thin compositions. Sing-along choruses and uplifting codas abound on festival-primed songs like “All Die Young,” “Dye the World” and “Smile.”  The boys exhibit an insidious cleverness throughout Dye It Blonde, launching into a disco-infected chorus on “Dance Away” (as Omori sings “And we’ll dance the night away,” as if he were one of the Bee Gees) and utilizing the kind of arpeggios Graham Coxon peddled expertly as a member of Blur during the height of Britpop (“Clover Over Dover” comes to mind) on “Only One.” Lead single and album-opener “Weekend” is the real gem, a sentimental ode to an absent loved one that rides a slick riff.

With its concise songwriting, grandiose flourishes and killer guitar interplay, Dye It Blonde is a formidable addition to the guitar pop canon. The album may be somewhat uneven but it rides the strength of its better tracks and the undeniable charm of Omori’s plaintive vocals and lyrics to stylistic success.


Original Author: James Rainis