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Posted on July 3rd, 2013 (7:15 am) by Robby Ritacco

It was hard not to feel like there was a long road ahead when Smith Westerns first came around. The Chicago band’s 2009 self-titled debut was, well…jarring is an understatement. It was the kind of album that took talent to write, but some sort of Molotov cocktail of balls and ego to release, at least in its given state of production. But four years and two albums later, Smith Westerns has honed their jagged edge, and Soft Will is their second portrayal of their inherent capacity for growth and adaptation within the indie-rock world.

Following their 2009 self-titled debut was 2011’s Dye It Blonde and the growth between the two was plenty significant. However, the growth between Dye It Blonde and Soft Will is paramount. The coy, downright jagged tone of Smith Westerns’ past has been replaced by a lavish, full indie rock sound that pulls influence from all the right places, one with immaculate production, with much credit due to producer Chris Coady (Beach House, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio).

Dye It Blonde made abundantly clear the three-piece’s affinity for the glory days of glam, and while that can certainly still be heard on Soft Will, it takes from a wider scope encompassing prog and early alternative rock. Much of the album draws a clear thread of influence from a bizarre crossover of ‘70s – ‘80s bands, spanning a range from ELO to The Cure. Essentially, Soft Will sounds like a Frankenstein’s Monster-type creation formed from every last Beatles record, an amalgamation of each stage of the Fab Four’s musical career played in unison.

Predating the album’s June 25th release was lead off single “Varsity,” as well as its video, in all of its young love and abstract sexual symbolism glory. It’s not a great sample of the wheels in motion on Soft Will, though it is an indicator of yet another odd direction the band has taken influence from: early ‘90s pop-as-rock. The track shares a weird kinship with several hits from that time period, but even seems to share a few brief melodies, albeit not tempo, with Supergrass’s “Alright”.

Tracks like “3am Spiritual” and “Fool Proof” paint a better picture of the value in Soft Will’s alternative leanings, with ‘Spiritual’ even incorporating the coy snark of Smith Westerns of yore in its lyricism. The song, as well as the album, opens with “It’s easier to think you’re dumb like you were / it’s easier to think you’re no fun, oh I know / it’s easier to think you can’t go on” before launching into the band’s most insatiably sound, fluidly structured song, period.

It’s become a modern lean-to, digging through the past to create one’s own future, ever weary of the conflicting tugs of merit and nostalgia. Soft Will has found itself a precise balance between the two, effectively establishing Smith Westerns’ outstanding capacity for growth at an early stage in their career, and building themselves a new comfort zone outside of the lo-fi niche.

Track List:
1. 3am Spiritual
2. Idol
3. Glossed
4. XXIII
5. Fool Proof
6. White Oath
7. Only Natural
8. Best Friend
9. Cheer Up
10. Varsity

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

73 / 100
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