Chicago Teenagers Mature From Ramshackle Punk to UK Glam

Smith Westerns
Dye It Blonde
Fat Possum

On their 2009 self-titled debut, Smith Westerns embodied the lo-fi beach party scene that has come to include bands like Best Coast and Wavves. On tour, they cursed and spat through a grungy, distorted set, drank through the night and got themselves kicked out of the Music Hall of Williamsburg for “pissing in garbage cans.”

On their second album, Dye It Blonde, the Chicago teenagers have grown up a little, ditching their basement roots for glossier production and channeling the legendary glam rock of T. Rex and David Bowie. With sweeping, anthemic arrangements and wailing guitar solos, Smith Westerns manage to shed their bratty, amateurish punk tendencies while still holding on to their adolescent charm.

“Weekend” opens the album with an endlessly catchy hook, sandwiched by the aloof vocals of greasy-haired frontman Cullen Omori. “Weekends are never fun / Unless you’re around here too,” he whines.

From here, the album drifts from pool-party love songs to campy, ’70s throwbacks, with tracks driven by soaring lead guitars and lovesick lyrics. The rollicking “Dance Away” collapses into a suddenly majestic, cut-time refrain before grooving into an upbeat sing-along — harkening back to fellow Midwesterners and power-pop legends Cheap Trick.

Meanwhile, “Imagine, Pt. 3” drives from blissful chorus to blissful chorus, culminating in a stadium-worthy breakdown loaded with the melodic pop sensibility that defined a golden age of rock ‘n’ roll.

Not that Dye It Blonde is totally devoid of teenage carnage. On the massive, Beatles-style ballad “All Die Young,” Omori wails, “I wanna grow old before I grow up / I wanna die with my chin up” over a choir of swirling organ and childlike back-up vocals.

And who could blame them? The party’s going all night long, and Smith Westerns aren’t planning on stopping. With such a promising sophomore release, neither are we. (8/10)

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