It was a bold move on the part of Chicago-based garage rockers Smith Westerns to incorporate pieces of the cover of Nirvana’s Nevermind on the front of their self-titled debut. And it’s not particularly subtle either – you can even partially see ‘Nirvana’ diagonally spliced on the top right corner, upside down. But rather than merely acting as lawsuit bait or irony, the artwork seems more like a tribute. In fact, Smith Westerns seem exactly like the kind of band that Cobain heralded in the early ’90s. They have the twee sensibilities of The Vaselines, the good-natured jangle of Creedence Clearwater Revival and the messy abandon of many an early grunge act.
Most of all, however, Smith Westerns are really a top-notch garage rock band. The ten songs on their self-titled debut are steeped in a heavy film of fuzz, the lo-fi aesthetic they adhere to adding a bit of reckless charm to their otherwise infectious and sophisticated pop songs. The surf-rock riffs of “Dreams” kick off the album with a burst of energy and a soaring chorus, while the jaunty acoustic slop of “Boys Are Fine” lends an irresistible quality of dumb fun to the band’s tuneful glory. The band tackles T. Rex-style glam stomp on “Girl In Love,” effects-laden delirium on “We Stay Out” and big, soaring melodies on the reverb-heavy ballad “Tonight.”
Smith Westerns’ debut ends after a brisk 29 minutes, but within that short span of time, the band tackles as many different sounds as one can possibly fit under the ‘garage rock’ umbrella. That may seem limiting, but for Smith Westerns, it proves to be an opportunity to turn a simple sound into a versatile one.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.