Chicago’s young trio Smith Westerns popped into the blogosphere last year in August when Fat Possum re-released their self-titled debut, a delightfully scrappy ode to '60s pop and garage that sounded about as well-produced as when my 8th grade band recorded on a boombox sitting outside the garage door. But the hooks were there: buzzing guitar leads as catchy as the oft-falsetto vocals and beats that alternated from bouncy to swaying.
Six months later (this dropped in January) and they've already followed it up with another solid batch of tunes, this time with considerably better production that maintains that crunch. The drums are punched up considerably with the studio work of Brian Chase (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and John Eatherly (Turbo Fruits). The vocals are slightly more understandable, allowing for more singing along (always a plus). On their debut, they sounded so gritty they came off like the Black Lips’ cheery counterpart, but here you’d be more hard-pressed to make that comparison. I find the band often called glam around the web, but I've always found that label to be more a visual descriptor than an aural one. Smith Westerns do not partake in androgynous or glitter-sprinkled stage personas, and with the wide scope of the music made by the classic “glam” bands, I find it hard to make that connection. They do share a love for sex-infused love songs and classic rock and roll, so I suppose you could go there.
First single “Weekend” kicks things off with some chiming pad sounds quickly buried under a fuzzy guitar lead and the wispy vocals of Cullen Omori reminding me of my beloved, lost Unicorns. “Imagine Pt. 3” jitters along nicely with Max Kakacek’s incessant guitar lead coming dangerously close to eclipsing the vocal melody in catchiness. His lead right outta the gate on “End of the Night” along with the shuffling beat does give off a T. Rex vibe, giving a little weight to the whole glam thing.
My favorite track would be “All Die Young”, which begins as a ballad with sweeping organ and synth strings leading to cascading melody of “ooh”s coming in for landing with Omori crooning ”Heart and soul / Never know.” But the payoff is in the coda, where the tempo takes off and the ear-worm title lyric comes into play. It’s a total '60s teen pop hit if it weren’t for the downer lyrics. Later, the minor key arpeggios of “Only One” recall the Zombies, but then they fuzz it up with some power chords. Then we get “Dance Away”, a frequent tempo-shifter, though I find it a bit obvious that they break into a disco-beat section as Omori sings ”And we’ll dance the night away.”
Smith Westerns bring energy and attitude along with some new twists on familiar touchstones. I look forward to what the future brings with these guys.