Leigh MichaelWednesday,26 June 2013

The Snap:

Chicago-based band Smith Westerns released their third album, Soft Will, on 25 June. NPR reports that the record is tangible proof that the group has “evolved from a garage-y pop-rock outfit — all shambling T. Rex-isms and impeccable hair — to something sweeter, dreamier, slicker and sunnier.”

You can listen to the album via First Listen and permanently add it to your collection on iTunes.

The Download:

The music video for “Varsity” sort of defines my conflicted relationship with Soft Will. I think the song is great — but as I watch ‘Kristy’ (as the name on the butt of her shorts reveals) and a flannel-clad dude frolic on building rooftops, smear grapefruits across glass, and make out amidst fluorescent lighting, I feel like I’m getting rubbed the wrong way. It’s all just a little… contrived.

Smith Westerns have been compared to Vampire Weekend before, and I think that I share the same relationship with both bands. I like their music — I really do — but if I listen to it too much (i.e. more than once every few months), I begin to feel like it loses its appeal.

When it comes to Smith Westerns, I think this is where my inner conflict is coming from. When the band released the lackluster Dye It Blonde in 2011, they had morphed into a a bunch of overgrown brats. Example: Smith Westerns tackled a cover of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” with the AV Club. I actually thought their rendition was pretty great — but when you watch them stumbling around the stage in an evident haze of fucked-up-ness, it doesn’t seem “rockstar cool.” They look stupid. Afterwards, they were lambasted for their behavior and had some truly charming Tweets in response. Choice quote: “We did this awful cover of American Girl. GO FIND IT. #dontdrinkat3pm #shouldhavecared.” Then there was this cute interview. Basically, the trio got famous, got a big head, and embarrassed themselves.

Should this have anything to do with how I feel about their music? No way. They’ve got genuine talent, and I think that Soft Will is a really good album. But I have a hard time taking them seriously. “3AM Spiritual” has magnetic appeal, but the lyrics (“And you don’t look like it used to be / You don’t look like you did on TV”) feels like it carries vestiges of their entitled attitude from the past.

All baggage aside, Smith Westerns has clearly evolved — musically and (hopefully) personally. Soft Will has a light, poppy feel that is great for summer and the lyrics add a slightly melancholy twist that really works. “Idol” is another good one. The album is really good. Not great, but really good.

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Hat Tips:

Smith Westerns, Pitchfork, NPR, iTunes, SoundCloud, Image Credit: Flickr

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