Fans of 2009’s self-titled debut album from Smith Westerns might want to forget most of what they know about the band’s sound. Smith Westerns was just a blueprint for what was to come on their follow up Dye It Blonde. The poppy melodies and enthusiastic guitars are still there, but the fuzzy lo-fi production is gone and in its place is a much grander sound. What they’ve created from that blueprint is a shrine to all their favorite rock music of decades past, most notably the Beatles, Teenage Fanclub and glam rock.
Just saying that the band have rested on the laurels of their influences is completely unfair however; this is not Smith Westerns trying to recreate the sound of their iTunes library, this is Smith Westerns taking bits and pieces of those ideas, fusing them with their own and producing an album they’d be happy to listen to. Also, impressively, despite all those influences it’s an album that manages to sound modern, steer clear of being nostalgic and create the sound of being young today.
The band may have moved on their production values but their lyrics are still as charmingly juvenile as ever. Opening track “Weekend” sets the listener right into the band’s mindset with the childlike hook of “The weekends are never fun unless you’re around here too” and they don’t let up with the adolescentisms (if you will) from there. There are a few naive steps into trite territory with the likes of “oh girl can’t you see what you’re doing to me” and “we’ll dance the night away” but you’ll quickly forget those when you’re swept up in the next riotously infectious group of “ooh”s that are sure to be only a few seconds further down the line.
Each song comes equipped with multiple hooks and a chorus that features the band doing what they do best: letting loose and expending energy. They’ll ramp up the volume, add a cavernous vocal or – most effectively – add some glam-rock high-pitched guitars, and various combinations of the three. This is the simplest and most immediate part of their music, but there is plenty of attention to detail that enriches it too. You may not immediately appreciate the twinkling pianos and buzzing synth lines which grace the music from beneath, but you’ll be enjoying their presence subconsciously nonetheless. This is why Dye It Blonde is truly a success: the band have moved from the garage noise-rock sound to a much more atmospheric one wherein the noise is harnessed into multiple layers of melodic instrumentation. We can accept the simplistic lyrics because the words don’t matter as much as the vocal melodies which meld into the much larger picture they’ve created.
In many ways the cover of Dye It Blonde is a more perfect summation of the sound of the album than I could produce in words: they’ve taken something old and classic and warped it to fit their own devices, whether they’re fully realised ones or not. Dye It Blonde is a snapshot of Smith Westerns today: a band enjoying their youth. It’s not your youth or mine, it is definitively theirs, but they’re happy to share it with you if you’ll have a listen.