Review Summary: A very solid, very well put-together debut album from a very promising, very young band. (7.5/10)
Let’s be honest with ourselves: for all the apocalyptic wars, economic recessions, and health care issues that “men” in America have to deal with as “real problems”, they can still never be worse off than their teenage sons. Along with the knowledge that a life of debt, TV dinners and casual Fridays await them, awkward teenage guys also have to worry about that ever-distant problem that eat away at their little inexperienced consciousnesses each night: girls. Emotion will always conquer reason when it comes to going after your pretty little someone, but never does it entirely consume one’s life to the extent it does when you’re in those special, frustrating teenage years. If you were misfortunate enough to end up as one of those “sensitive” guys in high school, chances are you once picked up a guitar and sang your heart out to yourself, dreaming about that stupid girl who only needed to give you just one chance. Personally, my cover of "Everlong” didn’t exactly do much to help me bag my own someone junior year, but then again I was never as talented as The Smith Westerns. This Chicago quartet has crafted as solid a debut as you’re likely to find in 2009, with an album’s worth of killer tracks that soundtrack this adolescent longing with catchy, earnest, and just plain likeable garage rock.
Now, if the fact that The Smith Westerns may seem to be just another garage band singing about youthful girl problems sounds dissuading at first, remember a couple of things. First off, these guys are actually teenagers; each member of the band is really between the ages of 17 and 19. If there’s one band in this style that isn‘t bull***ting, it’s these guys. Girls are all they know and/or care to sing about (go ahead and look up their influences on their MySpace page, I‘ll wait), as each of this debut’s ten tracks are dedicated to some nameless beauty and all the joy, pain, and sheer uncertainty that she brings to these poor boys. Secondly, these guys are actually good, with a strong penchant for well-made, pop hooks that just isn’t found in many young band these days.
The Smith Westerns sound exactly like what they are: a group of kids who listened to the garage and glam their parents showed them, and decided they could write stuff like this themselves. The band lists a mixture of 70’s glam rockers such as T. Rex and David Bowie and the garage punk of the Nuggets compilations as their major influences, and this very much shows throughout the album’s 10 tracks. Album opener “Dreams” rides by on warbly, fuzzed-out guitars and even a xylophone riff, with lead singer/guitarist Cullen Omori wondering aloud, as earnestly as one can: “When will my dreams come true"/So I can be with you”. “The Glam Goddess” bounces along on a simple, but irresistible verse riff and a harmony of “woo-ooh-ooh”s, with a surprise string section peaking its head in the chorus, and a nifty little guitar solo, all while Omori just comes out and declares “I want to hold your hand”. “Diamond Boys” is about as epic a band like The Smith Westerns can get, throwing in pianos and a little falsetto to go along with its crashing chorus.
These boys wear their heart, and their influences, on their sleeve, yes, but The Smith Westerns avoid falling into the overly-confessional trap by layering their punk boogie with a lo-fi aesthetic in the same vain as No Age, Times New Viking, and Vivian Girls. The result is a sound that compliments the band’s frame of mind: a hooky, heartfelt groove kept underneath a brash, dirty layer of production. The fact that The Smith Westerns manage to stay pleasant-sounding underneath all the fuzz is a testament to how well these kids did their history homework. Album highlight “Be My Girl” is led by perhaps the most innocent hook of the year, and gently clean chords, slowing down the tempo to a softened pace, only for the beat to build quickly to a swelling, string-laden chorus, complete with Omori’s plea to “Just be my girl”.
It’s true, The Smith Westerns want to get laid. Most boys their age would probably be shut down for the bluntness of their horniness, but then again most boys don’t have the melodies, pop knowledge, and utter sincerity that these four do. Sure, this band archetype can be found all over the indie scene these days, and by all accounts these guys are “clichéd”. However, to look past these talents because they weren’t the first to the punch would be a mistake, as they have “next big thing” (at least within indie circles) written all over them. It’ll be interesting to see where The Smith Westerns go next, and if their aging and inevitably more frequent sex lives will cause them to lose some of the wholehearted passion they put into this album. Until then, know that this is a very impressive debut from a band that shows more promise at 19 than most bands do at 35.