In June of 2009, a group of young, scrappy faced punks out of Chicago released one hell of an indie rock record, considering that it was recorded in someone's garage. The foursome known as Smith Westerns accredit much of the influences found on said eponymous debut to glam rock bands T. Rex and David Bowie, while always maintaing an interminable lo-fi aesthetic. Now, after being signed to Fat Possum, and working in studio with producer Chris Coady (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beach House, TV On The Radio), the band has returned with a polished, more well-rounded affair that is guided by a stream of 90s Brit pop artists, rich with offerings of fuzzy, melodically aroused indie pop and lyrical content that continues to primarily concern girls and fantasies.
On that '09 debut, Smith Westerns' methodology meant producing brief, head bumping rock ditties where the instrumentals and frontman Cullen Omori's vocals were smothered in noise and distortion. The songs were catchy, but also a tad dense, lacking a certain instrumental grandeur that its successor, Dye It Blonde, makes up for in spades. In a recent interview with Pitchfork, Omori discusses how the sophomore effort continues to pay homage to glam rock, but also gathers influences from Oasis, Teenage Fanclub and Suede. Indeed. On Dye It Blonde, the group builds on the successful formula found on their debut with more provocative lyrics, powersynths, keyboards, heck, even elements of disco. The lo-fi is still tangible but rather than dominant, it lurks in the background to the scuzzy guitar riffs and Omori's youthful accounts of his woes and dreams.
Like their tourmates and friends, San Francisco's Girls, Smith Westerns indulge in imagination rather than dealing with the harsh realm of truth. With album closer, “Dye It Blonde,” Omori asks “are you a dream, or something in between? Is this fantasy or am I just lucky?” The fragrant, tempestuous “All Die Young” finds him confronting the adversities of his youth: “I wanna grow before I grow up/I wanna die with my shell/I don't know if you mean you are the one to love.” On breezy opener and lead single, “Weekend,” Omori frailly admits how “weekends are never fun unless you're around here too.” With its springtime candor and exuberant hopefulness, it is a painstaking introduction to the 90s Brit pop revival that is administered on Dye It Blonde.
Not that the whole T. Rex/Bowie thing is done with; gradually building ballads like “Smile,” with its large piano movements, graceful guitar solos and Omori's eclectic vocal range show the band is still committed to glam rock, while simultaneously venturing into new territory. The disco-fied “Dance Away” will attest to this, an indie rock dance track that's as bumping as Arctic Monkey's “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor.”
Though Smith Westerns are a young band (none of the members are older than 21), Dye It Blonde is a surprisingly mature record. This group of raw garageheads out of Chicago have sharpened their pencils, tightened their guitar strings and crafted an instrumentally diverse and broad full length that surpasses its predecessor in pretty much every way. In the short two years they've been around, they've shown an endless amount of potential.