Sound: Despite evoking the "lo-finess" (if it may be so called) of the artists on the Nuggets collection, Smith Westerns's second album is a much more controlled and listenable record than the Chicago band's ramshackle first self-titled effort. The lead guitar on this record should call to mind the bends and swells of George Harrison's solo output, but is curiously combined with glam-rock synths and outbursts like on "End Of The Night" to create a batch of hypermelodic songs. That's not to say Dye It Blonde" is a shimmering studio-only product, however. The songs still contain enough grit to attract fans of garage and lo-fi and are thankfully not bathed in gallons of reverb, the slowly-tiring practice amongst many of The Smith Westerns's peers; the Smith Westerns don't need to hide behind anything but their dense Spector-ish walls of guitars and tasteful synths. // 9
Lyrics: Thematically, the album deals almost explicitly with youth, asking "... Are you glamorous?". The kickstart with the nostalgic "Weekend" continues on an infinitesimal slow-burn to a more introverted pace at "Smile", receives a jerking Undertones-ish injection at "Dance Away", and takes it down a notch once more for the epic crescendo of "Dye The World", which is more case-pleading idealism than a command.
It's difficult to critique the vocalist, but vocals are undoubtedly The SW's weak spot. While sometimes his voice can be as sweet as Harrison's, and the highs almost Bee Gee-like (read "almost" as "nowhere near as annoying as") there are times when it's nearly off-key with the rest of the music; live performances can be even worse on occasion. Thankfully these are split-second moments and shouldn't detract the listener from the song. The SWs don't hide behind too much reverb, but that's not to say there aren't a few vocal anomalies here and there. // 7
Overall Impression: The album's epochal and spacious sound, while ambitious, just slightly undershoots the balls-out anthemic quality of, say, British Sea Power's "Valhalla Dancehall". Instead, we are left with a collection of extremely catchy, but admittedly non-diverse songs. Some reviewers have complained about repetitious sound of the album, which I disagreed with initially. Besides for a few standout songs like the first single "Weekend", "Imagine Pt. 3", and "All Die Young" (the last in my opinion), the tracks on this album do start to meld together after repeated listenings. This might lead you to consider The Smith Westerns a one-trick pony, but remember; they are extremely early on in their career which, like Sixpence None The Richer or Brooke Shields, began when they were ludicrously young. The album's catchiness and breathy vocals, as well as the blistering guitar lines, make it one of the more worthwhile releases of 2011 so far. // 10