Last year was a growing period for Smith Westerns, the Chicago garage pop quartet whose prior year’s self-titled debut caught many by surprise with dreamy, innocent pop harmonies and overall maturity from a band who at the time, were still in high school. The band toured non-stop in 2010, honing their chops, learning to play tighter and ultimately working as a well-oiled machine. In doing so, they have expanded their audience exponentially, all the while gaining solid critical success. And with more experience comes a brand new stage for the band as they offer up an excellent sophomore set in Dye It Blonde.
In November, leading up to the album, the band released the first single, “Weekend,” which naturally stirred up hype and anticipation, and with good reason. The song kicks things off with signature guitar jangle and three-minute power-pop structure, not to mention a memorable chorus of blissful falsetto harmonies. What stands out across this new set is the heightened level of maturity to the band’s garage rock stylings — “Imagine Pt.3″ is an unabashedly catchy love pop song, with frontman Cullen Omori delivering lines like, “You’ve always got me coming back for more.” Influences like T Rex shine through on tracks like “All Die Young” while the band sticks to their bread-and-butter lo-fi hooks on “End Of The Night” and “Dance Away.”
It is hard to believe at times that the band is collectively around 19 years old – “Smile” ends with a prog-rock, singalong outro, revealing ambition and craftsmanship far beyond their years. With the jump to Fat Possum, the songs are crisp and better produced, but still remain lo-fi and often ooze a retro feel – something that carries over from the debut.
With a solid new set of material, Smith Westerns have returned to reveal how much creative growth they’ve undergone in such a short amount of time. Resurrecting all the right bits of T. Rex and The Replacements, while echoing contemporary sidekicks like Girls, Smith Westerns have released the first great album of 2011. The great thing, though, is that they have only just begun.
Video: Smith Westerns “Weekend”