Music

Smith Westerns: Smith Westerns

The Smith Westerns show it is possible to pull off garage-style glam rock, and then some.


Smith Westerns

Smith Westerns

Label: Fat Possum
US Release Date: 2010-08-31
UK Release Date: 2010-09-06
Amazon
iTunes

They are a young (aged between 18 and 20) male quartet unimaginatively attired in emasculating jeans and floppy haircuts, and they write songs that tell the world the trauma of pre-adulthood is the opposite sex. So far, big yawn. But before we go ahead and dismiss Smith Westerns as just another wet-between-the-ears group of poseurs trying the college pub circuit on for size, we may want to consider the bright future that beholds them. The pop intelligentsia, in any case, seem to think so, as do vaunted indie heroes like Belle and Sebastian and Florence and the Machine.

So what is it that pushes the two sets of brothers (Cullen and Cameron Omori, Colby and Max Kakacek) from risible Urban Outfitters poster boys undeserving of their label, Fat Possum, to slightly curious pop masterminds that make grotesque miscreants out of jaded critics? Something I’d unfashionably call the group’s pleasant contrariness, which takes three forms. First Smith Westerns are astute practitioners of glam rock, a style that has hardly enjoyed a proper revival as yet. That the band hail from the decidedly un-glam turf of Chicago also raises an eyebrow. Second, their T. Rex-indebted pop tones are as shorn of the gossamer side of glam as their slovenly appearance and the crashing abandon they display when on stage. They are all for swift infectious melodies, sometimes blurted out with the quick-fire brevity of the Ramones, and always captured for all posterity on what sounds like cheap recording equipment salvaged from 1973. Third, it takes more than your ordinary dose of chutzpah to swipe a Nirvana album cover for one’s own, albeit flipped, sliced and spliced with a painting of the Virgin Mary.

In short, Smith Westerns are scuzz meets stardust, sharp musicians that like a spanner in the works. Given the successes of similarly dishevelled acts like Ariel Pink, Wavves, and Black Lips, the group's gauzy musicality is clearly a winning formula. That’s not to say their eponymous debut -- which sold out its limited release in 2009, beckoning Fat Possum to reissue it -- is without its pimply pockmarks. Apart from its convincing Marc Bolan-meets-CBGB air, album opener “Dreams” is one of those songs where it’s hard to forgive Smith Westerns for being green. When Cullen Omori says: “When will my dreams come true? / So I can be with you”, one can only wonder how a group with such a sure grasp of the musical style of their parents’ generation could right such a line and not feign irony.

There are also moments when the coarse production comes off too much like a damp squib. “We Stay Out”, for instance, sounds like the Velvet Underground gargling mouthwash and not in a nice way. Such misgivings, however, seem a million miles away when we hear the brilliantly executed arena-rock stomping “Girl in Love”, which lifts its strutting refrain straight out of “Get It On” -- a confidence that’s seconded by Cullen oozing Bolan-style sex appeal. Thankfully, we get another dosage of Cullen’s irresistible androgynous swagger (amid a haze of interference) on both the suitably Tony Visconti-woozy boozy “Be My Girl” and “Diamond Boys”, a number that recalls David Bowie in more ways than its name. What Cullen is singing about beneath all the crackle is inconsequential.

For a band so vernal and self-assured in their ability to rough up an era of pop despite the pitfuls of sounding daft, it’s hard not to be titillated by how the quartet will evolve.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.