This Britpop-channelling Chicago band’s potential for greatness is vast.
Mike Haydock 2011-04-20
Smith Westerns are a three-piece from Chicago, and if you’ve ever heard their debut, eponymous album, this follow-up will be quite a surprise. While the previous record was set to tape on a shoestring budget in guitarist Max’s basement, Dye It Blonde has some ready cash behind it. Suddenly the buzzing frenzy of the band’s early, T. Rex-inspired sound gives way to a crisper, dreamier noise.
Dye It Blonde has huge, bombastic, reedy guitar riffs that tie the album together, bursting from the canvas. The melodies, formerly submerged under crackling fuzz, now come surging to the surface, full of life. The album has the lo-fi swagger of Britpop (think Sleeper and Ash), but singer Cullen Omori’s spaced-out, shoegazey vocal sprinkles the whole thing with ethereal majesty: thus, comparisons with Deerhunter are probably closest to the mark, albeit Deerhunter at their most accessible.
Cullen’s voice won’t be for everyone. He slides up to and off the notes, making songs like Still New woozy. But there’s universal appeal to the album’s biggest pop moments: the peak of the crescendo on opener Weekend; the piano breakdown on End of the Night ("Everyone wants to be a star on a Saturday night," Cullen sings); the Portugal the Man-style harmonies on Smile; and the gorgeous, chanting coda on All Die Young. Dance Away, meanwhile, more than lives up to its title, with a toe-tapping verse and a shape-shifting chorus that houses a sneaky disco beat.
Smith Westerns are that rare treat: an intelligent indie band with a love of a good tune and a good time. Dye It Blonde is a warm, wonky album made by three blokes who haven’t reached their 21st birthdays yet; and bearing in mind that this is their first stab at honing a record in a proper studio, their potential for greatness is vast.