Today marks the release of Smith Westerns' Dye It Blonde, an album that finds these Chicago 20-year-olds taking a leap forward. The band's lo-fi, garage rock, T. Rex-inspired 2009 self-titled debut was driven by an infectious energy that risked being lost with a much larger budget. Instead, the energy of their first album remains intact on its follow-up, while the hooks soar.
Other than the remarkably mature emotional depth Smith Westerns achieve on Dye It Blonde, the biggest surprise has to be the overlying Britpop influences. Teenage Fanclub comes to mind on a song like the sweeping "Dance Away," while the polished production by Chris Coady uncovers near-anthems--from opener "Weekend" to the sure-fire "All Die Young."
Its members may be too young to even get into their own show on Feb. 17 at the Crocodile, but Smith Westerns have struck gold with their sophomore effort. Dye It Blonde proves to be a record so lush that it might make you wonder what their debut would have sounded like had it been recorded in a studio rather than a garage.