EVERY year or so I find a newish band that excites me, that brings back memories of the music I fell in love with as a teenager but that puts its own stamp on a tradition. A bit more than a year ago, I feel hard for the xx, with their moody, intimate take on trip-hop and British gloom.
This year, the young band I’m most excited about is Smith Westerns, a trio of Chicago kids in thrall to glam and Nuggets-style garage rock. They were teenagers when their first, self-titled LP came out in 2009 – it’s so fuzzy and lo-fi that All Music Guide says it could have been recorded in a washing machine.
But what I’m really turned on by – what’s sending me out to their sold-out show at the Echo Friday night -- is their new LP, Dye it Blonde. Their interest in T. Rex and the Standells is still clear, but this is a far more distinctive effort, inspired by a romantic kind of power pop, and they have become catchy as hell. Listen to "Weekend," the album’s opening track, powered by an unforgettable guitar line, or better yet, watch this video. There's a memorable guitar riff on almost every song, and though this mostly extroverted music, some of the textures have a bit of shoegaze to them.
Besides more attention to song structure, the new record is marked by vastly different production, which makes the melodic turns clearer and more powerful. Here is an interview on Noisevox, where the band talks about Dye it Blonde. "We wanted to make something super lush and layered," Cullen Omori says, comparing it to the first record which he saw as "pop songs recorded poorly." They also talk about being unjustly pigeon-holed as a garage band.
Jeff Tweedy and others seem to agree with me, because the band is now opening some of Wilco’s dates in the South and appearing at Sasquatch Music Festival in May. All hail Smith Westerns!!