The biggest knock against Smith Westerns isn't so much a knock as a bitter pill: They're young. The Chicago trio's second album, the ambitious Dye It Blonde, was recorded when their members were 19 years old or younger, though you'd be hard-pressed to tell. There are youthful sentiments — love and pain and distance and near-misses — but there's a clarity of sound, a kind of veteran intelligence, that surprises.
The band's self-titled debut, released on Chicago indie HoZac, had the same ambition but little of the rigor or know-how. Dye It Blonde, unlike its predecessor, was recorded in a proper studio in New York with respected engineer/producer Chris Coady (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beach House) and he has gifted the band with sonic structure and hope. Where once there were good ideas unformed, now there are skyscraping bridges and relentless choruses and spiraling chord changes.
The band, for their part, have grown, turning their Nuggets and T. Rex-inspired experiments in full-blown sing-alongs. Lead singer Cullen Omori is a dewy-eyed heartthrob type, singing in a dreamy tone about how dull weekends are without you ("Weekend"). Omori is no great lyricist, but he's an honest one, completely tapped into the warring optimism and dullness of young adulthood. Meanwhile guitarist Max Kakacek drives these songs with slashing chords. "End of the Night" comes on like a snow plow, barreling over everything in its path, and picking it clean, before unfolding into a piano-led breakdown. These are bold, impressive steps for such, yes, young, crew. But don't call them precocious. Just comfortable.