DYE IT BLONDE by smith westerns

by Gordon


Pitchfork: 8.4          Rolling Stone: 3.5/5          Metacritic: 83          Spin: 4.5/5


Released: January 2011
  1. Weekend
  2. Still New
  3. Imagine Pt. 3
  4. All Die Young [LISTEN]

  5. Fallen In Love
  6. End Of The Night
  7. Only One
  8. Smile
  9. Dance Away
  10. Dye The World

   For most of my adolescent life, music was something that made me want to be older, feel older, grasp the lyrics and even the sounds in a more mature way than what was then possible. Call it quarter-life crisis, or call it listening to Smith Westerns a month ago, but this mentality has been flipped upside down, and my hunch says it’s the band. The energy and raw enthusiasm at the spine of this, their sophomore effort, belie the album’s near senior sound and craftmanship. That these four Chicagoan rockers (Cullen Omori, singer, guitarist / Cameron Omori, bassist / Max Kakacek, guitar / Colby Hewitt, drums) are barely out of high school should scare off anyone who’d question their talent.

   The album is all up, never down, never dull, and first single/album opener “Weekends” is no exception, a catchy synth-guitar ode to any boy who’s ever liked a girl and moreso, wanted to see that girl over the weekend (video below). In “Imagine Pt. 3”, as with much of this album, Kakacek’s guitar plows the whole way through as the driving lifeblood of the song, which in this case is a piano-bass romp on “love and lust”, until exploding mid-chorus: “Oh can’t you see, what you’re doing to me / But you’re always coming, coming back for more.”

   “All Die Young”, an album standout, at first pulls things back in pace and octane to accentuate the 80’s-esque power ballad backdrop to the wishful musings of Omori: “I wanna grow old before I grow up / I wanna die with my chin up / I wanna shine before I shut up.” The song’s finale becomes a band, even an album, event, all parts evenly synced behind a giddy, near chorus line vocal performance from the whole group. “Smile” takes a similar approach, slowed down and at times stripped down, the cynical turned hopeful lyrics on love and life just vague enough to connect to any audience. That is, except for the part where Kakacek intercedes with an arching, Harrison-sized guitar solo, or the chorus arrives in an MGMT-style soundscape of epic proportions (it’s no surprise both bands would tour together, or share the stage, video here).

   The rest of the album is pure fun. The formula (if there is one?) never grows old or tedious, the band throwing new tricks and experimentation into the safe zone of the tried and true, a practice that Smith Westerns make look all too easy. They sing of Saturday night parties and yearnings on “End of the Night”: “Oh, it’s the end of the night / Are you gonna go home?”, rest-of-the-week yearnings on “Still New”: “I wanna tell you you’re hard to resist / And if this is all that you know / Don’t go in alone”, and the in-between mind games with yourself on “Dye the World”: “Are you a dream? / Or something in-between? / Is this fantasy? / Or am I just lucky?”. It may all sound a bit guy-oriented, and it is, but I have a feeling the girls won’t mind joining the anthems.

   It’s a mixed bag of beautiful, near impossible contradictions. A fresh and distinct sound, yet one vaguely rooted in the spirit and artistic process of well-established greats (and comparisons have been made). It’s basements, escape, and underground venues. And somehow it’s pristine studio, MTV, the here and now. Run to Dye It Blonde, you’ll run faster. Party to it, you’ll party harder. Listen to it. You might just get younger.

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