Front Page Reviews & AIR
Smith Westerns - Dye it Blonde
After a self-titled debut full of rambunctious energy and glam-punk orchestration that oozed lo-fi quality (and practically ensured round-the-clock play in your local record emporium), Smith Westerns have returned with a follow-up of similar, but decidedly cleaner, songs. The band clearly had some money to throw at some studio time this time around, and money to pay a (*gasp*) producer as well. Get-in, get-out, get-laid is still the order of the day, but on Dye it Blonde Smith Westerns sounds like a band that knows they put out one hell of a debut demo and that the follow-up has to be for real. This works to the band’s advantage and allows Dye it Blonde to transcend the typical neo-garage formula.
To my mind, neo-garage bands typically come from one of two roots. Either they lean toward Ramones-style punk, emulating the three-chord template and “crappy” aesthetics that made the first four classic Ramones records what they are. Or else the band veers into the dangerous, razor-edge, acid-approach of the Stooges to certify its garage-ness. What makes Dye it Blonde particularly original and fun to listen to is that it taps a lesser appreciated approach to garage rock. They own the influence of both the Ramones and the Stooges but aren’t beholden to either. Their garage-band aesthetics are tempered by the influence of 80s Brit-pop a la early Jesus and Mary Chain or Trashcan Sinatras. The vocals are awash in reverb and live within, as opposed to above, the music. And the melodic fuzz guitar is more Beatles/Oasis than Ramones/Stooges.
Another factor that makes Dye it Blonde a decidedly different sort of garage album is its unabashedly sunny production. Every track, regardless of intention or mood, is bright – perfect for all-day beach-going, or even late-night treks for free closing-time pizza slices. And while some bands would suffer under the weight of such production, Smith Westerns’ melodic hooks stand up to it. None of the sunny production feels at odds with the ragged artsy qualities that the band maintains in the songs’ emotional build-ups. It’s a unique and original blend of influences, and it works. Then again, Smith Westerns are young enough that it’s hard to say definitively what music they’ve had time to immerse themselves in.
Thematically, Dye it Blonde is about being 18 and knowing it. It’s about the dreaded ambiguousness of that age, and the dark sense that you may have better idea of what love is than your parents. It’s an album made by kids who are sad-eyed, lovelorn, and earnest about the music they play. And in acting their age, Smith Westerns have riffed out, cleaned-up, and avoided a sophomore slump. And Dye it Blonde may only a hint at what Smith Westerns will be when the kids, inevitably, become more mature songwriters. Until then, their poppy hooks and tightly-constructed looseness (nobody is this cool without effort) is promise enough that the band will grow into something much more ambitious. It’s not a radical departure from their first album, but the obvious upgrades and changes in approach make Dye it Blonde feel as classic as the albums that influenced it.