Music

Smith Westerns: Dye It Blonde

Smith Westerns make an unfussy record full to the brim of subtle pop brilliance and unimpeachable rock touchstones.


Smith Westerns

Dye It Blonde

Label: Fat Possum
US Release Date: 2011-01-18
UK Release Date: 2011-01-18
Amazon
iTunes

At this point, Smith Westerns has officially become what some listeners might call a “buzz band” (looking your way, Hipster Runoff). The year 2010 was a remarkably good one for the Chicago group, as steady touring gave way to rising acclaim for its straightforward, classic-rock-tinged guitar rock. The band’s self-titled debut in 2009 paved the way, considering it was a solid set of songs that recalled touchstones ranging from ‘60s psych-pop to the glammier side of David Bowie. In fact, those influences are what make Smith Westerns’ quick ascendance so laudable: the band makes earnest, guitar-driven pop music, freely disassociated from any of the dozens of trends that pop up in the blogosphere in a given musical year. Sure, Smith Westerns shares some DNA with tourmates Girls -- namely, an appreciation for sunny melodies and jangly guitar tones -- but Dye It Blonde sounds refreshingly unconcerned with reinventing the wheel.

Bands in this new decade have to look increasingly far backward to get to the Beatles, but the dividends can still pay off, even if you might strain your neck in the process. Dye It Blonde wastes no time announcing its Fab Four-informed pedigree. The tone of that lead guitar in opener “Weekend” would make George Harrison proud. More importantly, lead guitarist Max Kakacek plays with enough verve and intuitive senses of energy and melody to make his listeners forget to play the name-that-influence game. It doesn’t hurt that frontman Cullen Omori hits those liquid “oo-oo’s” in the chorus with such precision that they almost seem to melt into your ears.

As good as “Weekend” is, “Still New” is even better. Sequencing, after all, is something else a band can learn from their forebears -- always try to kick it up even further after your opening salvo. Here, the tempo slows, but the atmospherics rise to the occasion. The band’s rhythm section, drummer Colby Hewitt and bassist Cameron Omori, proves that it is just as tight in its chops as the band's guitarists. A wailing guitar lick hits in all the right places for those of us deprived of a properly rocking Built to Spill album for far too many years now. Smith Westerns can do melancholy just as easily as it can do sunny, feel-good pop, and it does so in the same fashion: no showiness, no indulgence, just well-built and perfectly executed songs.

It’s that careful attention to the nuances in each song that makes Dye It Blonde such a quietly revelatory slice of pop-rock. The keys on “Imagine Pt. 3”, the reverb on the snare on “All Die Young”, the ever-so-brief disco freakout in “Dance Away”. These guys take their time writing their songs, and it shows. Constructing a three-minute pop song that will float -- that’s arguably harder to do than writing the kind of abstract piece that grabs your attention with its idiosyncrasies or a flashy track that hits with undeniable musicianship but leaves you feeling strangely unfulfilled afterward. Smith Westerns do it again and again on Dye It Blonde. The band never merely repeats itself here, creating a record that sounds at once cohesive and loaded with singles. It’s a rare feat, and one that usually gets overlooked by critics shooting for the zeitgeist. Good for us that we didn’t miss out on this one.

9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image