Smith Westerns are an indie rock band founded in 2007 in Chicago, Illinois by prep schoolmates Cullen Omori (guitar, vocals) and Max Kakacek (guitar). The group was solidified in 2008 after recruiting Cullen’s brother, Cameron Omori, on bass and Hal James on drums in 2008. Their debut release, a 7” vinyl single on Chicago-based HoZac Records, quickly sold out of its first two pressings. In 2009, the group’s debut LP The Smith Westerns was released and was supported by a tour with No Bunny, where they would play as the opening act as well as No Bunny’s backing band. Later that year, Fat Possum Records signed the group and released the LP Dye It Blonde to mainstream success, with a US chart position of #114. The album features studio drumming by John Eatherly (Turbo Fruits) and Brian Chase (the Yeah Yeah Yeahs).
There are some bands out there that are just universally crowd-pleasing; where every single song on an album is a gem in and of itself. With their sophomore album Dye It Blonde, Chicago's Smith Westerns have carved their notch onto a tree of memorable music. And compared to their 2009 debut self-titled album, which was released before any of the members could legally drink, Dye It Blonde is refreshingly mature. Gone are the fuzzy, lo-fi effects and teenage approach to lyrics. Instead, their new (and much more polished) approach really shows off just how rich and dynamic their music can be. Opening track “Weekend” sparkles and shimmers into your eardrums, like sunlight reflecting off of a pool before you plunge right in. And it has one of those lusciously infectious guitar riffs that you'll find yourself absentmindedly singing out loud, even long after the song is over. Just like The Who sang “I hope I die before I get old” in the 60s, Smith Westerns give their own take on this universal theme in “All Die Young.” But unlike the raucousness of “My Generation,” this song has a more reflective feel with its lower tempo, gentle organ riff, and lyrics like “I wanna grow old before I grow up, I wanna die with my chin up.” Lead singer Cullen Omori stretches his vocals between a lower register to one that's wonderfully androgynous, as if his vocals are straddling the line between adolescence and adulthood. But one of the most beautifully lush, and arguably most multi-faceted, songs on the album is “Smile.” It's rich with vocal harmonies and a driving piano riff, drawing inspiration from techniques that The Beatles used in songs like “A Day In The Life.” There are also flairs of glam rock, courtesy of excellent electric guitar riffs that give nods to what Brian May accomplished with Queen. But just when you think you've figured out the direction of the song, everything is completely stripped away to an acoustic guitar breakdown, followed by gentle “ooh-wah-oohs” that sound like they're coming from a chorus of indie rock angels. And just when Smith Westerns have you lulled into a sonorous submission, they snap you right out of it with “Dance Away.” It's immediately bouncy and zest; and, as the title suggests, it's definitely the most dance-friendly track on the album. Ending the album on a glam-rock note is “Dye The World.” A fuzzy, T.Rex-style guitar riff gets things rolling, followed by a more polished, higher-pitched guitar riff. It's as if the style they created on their first album is going head-to-head with their new direction. But instead of working against each other, they meld together into something even greater. For being such a young band, Smith Westerns have already established the gift of knowing how to grab your attention, musically, without ever being over-the-top. There are enough peaks and valleys in the album to prove that they're a band worth paying attention to.