It’s been a rocket fueled trip for Smith Westerns since the founding members, comprising a pair of brothers and their friend, all under the age of 21, decided to pick up and start playing instruments midway through high school. Soon after its inception, the young Chicago band basically recorded their self-titled debut on GarageBand, with limited release through local label HoZac. Then in a whirlwind touchdown including a high school diploma and a tour with Girls, Fat Possum came knocking. Using all of its advance on recording costs and hooking up with producer Chris Coady (Beach House, !!!, Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Smith Westerns’ sophomore album Dye It Blonde is born.
This quickie bio is important because without understanding the agile leaps and bounds the band made in a year, this record sounds like an impossibility (or at least an improbability) standing next to its debut. Dye It Blonde blows away the fuzz and polishes the scratchy sounds off their last recordings, revealing a whole lot of something we didn’t hear before.
T. Rex is an automatic influence flag, in both its instrumental construction and that irresistible vocal production, with Cullen Omori giving a terrific performance all the way through. Tracks like the album’s first single “Weekend” and “Imagine, Pt. 3” pay homage to early glam rock (Bowie included) in the best way possible. Then the vibe twists here and there, going into straight-up Eric Clapton “Bell Bottom Blues”-y wah-wah pedals and epic feel-good build-ups in songs like “All Die Young” and “Smile.” It’s like listening to a radio station with “Eagle” in its name whilst driving through San Francisco.
So many pop movements of the past have been reactionary against the Big Kahunas of the world; in the spirit of rebellion, flying a flag for the youth, in the name of art, or whatever. Dye It Blonde seems to be more interested in kicking off of its own graduating class whilst simultaneously jacking the ‘best hair’ superlative. An interesting move by a young band who, in one fell swoop, has pulled ahead of the rat pack with nothing but a few more dollars, hard work, and talent.