When Smith Westerns arrived on the scene back in 2009 with their self-titled debut, they brought with them an exciting new sound. Perhaps it was down to their plucky inexperience (the band recorded in guitarist Max Kakacek’s basement while still in high school), or maybe it was their youthful eagerness – whatever the case, instead of a by-the-books toe-tapper, we got with a fuzzy, rough around the edges gem. Their retro-hip, drunken sound was something fresh and exhilarating; shake that up with a seemingly endless grab-bag of lyrics about girls, dreams and miss-placed youth and it was pretty obvious they were on to something.
Just over a year later and the Chicago four-piece return with Dye It Blonde, their hotly anticipated follow up and proof that they are no flash in the pan. This time around their sound has been given a thorough spit polish thanks to a studio upgrade (a real one this time) and a flashy producer (Chris Coady) who’s worked with the likes of TV on the Radio and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Gone are the dangerously distorted guitars and vocal tracks, in their place a clean, confident mix, shifting focus onto the band’s heartfelt lyrics and inspired musical talent. Album opener ‘Weekend’ starts things off nicely with lyrics that are in their sentimental prime: “Weekends are never fun unless you’re around here too” coos ‘frontman Cullen Omori over a killer guitar riff. The bands retro-redo niche is still present, but redirected slightly this time around. ‘Fallen in Love’ is injected with a definite Lennon vibe, ‘Dance Away’ makes a daring return to disco and album closer ‘Dye in the World’ dusts off the excessive joys of glam rock.
Refined yet expansive is probably the best way to describe Dye It Blonde. Sure, a bit of an oxymoron but accurate none the less. Packed with wailing guitars, nostalgic vocal echoes and therapeutic keyboards, Smith Westerns add their own secret ingredient into the mix and make it all sound brand new. And it’s when all of these elements align that you glimpse the band’s true potential. Standout tune ‘All Die Young’ is a fine example of this; it’s a track that will draw you in time and again, from a band you’ll definitely be returning to time and again in 2011.