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‘Coolness through association’ is an excellent strategy for a talentless group to quickly acquire bloated column inches. Be it via a convenient genetic connection, a friend of a friend, or sleeping with the editor/lead-singer of a prominent magazine/band, it provides a sure-fire foot in the door, bypassing the usual toll booths.
Chicago’s Smith Westerns are making waves in the UK through association. The mouthy trio recently supported our latest great white hope, The Vaccines, on tour. On first impressions you might anticipate another run of the mill band of rip-off merchants. And to an extent they are. Influences are mined from a rich seam of classic Rock and Roll (a combination of early Bowie and Sixtes garage) routinely ravaged and betrayed for decades. The difference is that Smith Westerns do it very well.
Dye It Blonde is instantly familiar. ‘Weekend’ starts with a primitive guitar riff reminiscent of The Libertines that will win, and retain, your attention. Vocals with the nonchalance of Zaphod Beeblebrox, drowned in reverb, evoking MGMT, with a mumbling delivery that results in you regularly mishearing lyrics.
With choruses like “All die young”, tongue in cheek or not, you can’t help but admire the confidence on show. “Everybody wants to be a star on a Saturday night…It’s the end of the night, are you gonna go home?”, from ‘End of the Night’, highlight the spirit and simplicity of the album’s lyrics. It's predominantly content that your average early twenty-something would sing about: going out, getting laid (at least trying to). Simple, yes, but sometimes less is more.
This being their second record, Smith Westerns have already proven to have a life expectancy longer than many of their peers. The trio have distanced themselves from the bratty punk of their lo-fi debut, altering the formula that initially got them noticed. To quote forehead enthusiast Zinedine Zidane, “Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?"
They haven’t turned into a group of bed-wetters. There is still bite here and the engine is intact. It is controlled chaos in a shiny package. Dye It Blonde is evidence of evolution. Seemingly a lot can change in two years, such as learning how to play their instruments and finding someone to bankroll an experienced producer to steer the ship.
Dye It Blonde has unexpectedly crept into contention for being my favourite record of 2011 so far. On paper I would have assumed that this album would be another sonic parasite, but there’s a strange magnetism. It doesn’t feel like compromise, or hitchhiking on any bandwagon. No doubt like 99/100 new bands who garner anything even approaching critical success, they’ll eventually be hung out to dry, by either the tides of fashion or their own tongues. So enjoy it while you can.
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