Rockin' Our Turntable: The Smith Westerns
By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 20, 2011 5:20PM
We’re always excited when a Chicago group starts to garner a bunch of buzz in the music world so when we started hearing good things about Smith Westerns describing them as a garage group wise beyond their years and full of incredible hooks we got pretty excited. Until we heard their debut album, a lo-fi mess that was so dense no melody could penetrate it and so unlike the descriptions of the band we were convinced they must have made some unholy deal with the gods of blog buzz in order to accumulate the positive write-ups.
So we were honestly shocked (and a little hopeful) when the “Weekend,” the first single off their sophomore effort Dye It Blonde, turned out to be a perfectly crafted little piece of sunny, ‘70s pop. Suddenly our disdain for the band turned into high hopes. Were we wrong about Smith Westerns all along?
The answer to that is a decided “maybe.” Dye It Blonde is lushly produced, full of songs heavily influenced by post-Beatles California glam-pop, and an honest pleasure to listen to. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that between the garage influenced debut and this far more mature sounding effort that the band has made a quantum leap. Once you take a more studied view, though, you realize that the band is perhaps just hewing to a different set of influences. We say this because upon repeated listens the core songwriting on Dye It Blonde begins to wear thin pretty quickly, and what initially impressed us about the disc began to reveal itself as excellent decoration of a Twinkie instead of a gourmet cake. Don’t get us wrong, we love Twinkies, but you can only eat so many before you need a break. Standout tracks like "Weekend" and the tempo-jumping "Dance Away" hold up, but the other tunes begin to blend into a single mid-tempo tapestry that, while pleasant, makes it hard to distinguish one tune from another.
So now, the caveat; Smith Westerns are an incredibly young band, as in "just out of high school" young. And it seems incredibly unfair to be burdening them with this level of attention when they are still so obviously finding their voice. And if you look through our record collection you’ll see we like puh-lenty of bands showing tribute to their source material that don’t dig too much deeper than that. What sets Smith Westerns apart from most, though, is that they’ve so far shown themselves to be incredibly able at adapting to different sounds so we’re curious to hear what later efforts sound like as their musical library expands and their experience grows broader. Until then, Dye It Blonde is a good place to set up a picnic basket next to and enjoy until their next album comes along.