I don’t think that Fat Possum could have released two albums on the same day that could more drastically beg to be hated by modern music defeatists. If you hate the 60’s fetishism running rampant in modern indie rock, then the newest from Smith Westerns and Tennis may give you the uncontrollable urge to bitch slap an Urban Outfitters cashier.
Band: Smith Westerns
Back Story: After a decently successful debut album in 2009, the Chicago group has cleaned up their production for their newest album.
Charges Against Them: The album is “Beatles-esque”, a signifier I believe is a blatant slap in the face to anything it refers to. Regardless, even I, a person who greets The Beatles with a solid “meh”, can see how the Smith Westerns’ newly-varnished production pays wholesale homage to the band circa-The Magical Mystery Tour. The album’s lyrics sound like a tween’s high-end dump of every lyrical cliché he can think of. Nights are danced away, it becomes alright now, people die young, and people take the long way home. The same song structure is blatantly employed in three tracks, the lazy waltz of “All Die Young” duplicated on “Smile” and “Dye the World”. The cover looks like the floral pattern on my grandma’s couch and, if I may, the swirl effect on it looks quite “Beatles-esque”.
But…: It turns out that Dye It Blonde is loaded with hooks and masterful songwriting. Those above statements may be true, but Smith Westerns know how to make imitation look like flattery. Cameron Omori’s bass licks are supple and provide an excellent backbone for the music, and Cullen Omori and Max Kakacek’s twin guitar interjections absolutely slay the record, earning it the “glam-rock” moniker that has been somewhat attributed to them. Influences on or off sleeve, a good set of songs is a good set of songs, and Smith Westerns are the first band this year to provide that in spades from front to back.
Back Story: After spending seven months together sailing on the Eastern Seaboard, married musicians Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley decided to make an album about their travels under the name Tennis.
Charges Against Them: Regardless of how I feel about the quality of Cape Dory, it’s nearly impossible to think of how that cover art was a good decision. It’s going to turn so many people away by its sheer gaudiness, I’m saddened by how much potential money Tennis has lost on that decision, alone. The cover speaks volumes for what the band stands for, which is more of the 60’s soul girl-group revivalism that started with Amy Winehouse, which, to some, means more of the same blah blah dribble dribble. What’s the point?
But…: It turns out that Alaina Moore has a fantastic voice. Pop darlings like Taylor Swift may try to convey teenage innocence in their songs, but Moore actually encapsulates it, swooning as if she were reading aloud from her own diary entries. Plus, do you hear that? That’s just a tad of distortion on Moore’s voice, which gives it a mercurial bent when she goes for those jaunting high notes. You have to give her credit for giving her performance rough edges to smooth out. The songwriting is solid, at best sounding like Beach House and, at worst, sounding like a girl group retread. Cape Dory may sag a bit in its second half, but its bona fides as not just another Dusty Springfield obsessive have been well established.
So what did we learn, today? Not to judge a book (album) by its cover, and that good records can come in some rather stale packages. I didn’t think I was going to like either of these records, but I was proven wrong. My suggestion is to allow yourself to be proven wrong as well.