Smith Westerns waste all of three seconds making Dye It Blonde resolutely clear: the strutting, brash lead guitar that opens “Weekend,” after a brief swirling of sound, is pure glam glitter, immediately calling to mind the greatest moments of bands — T. Rex, Oasis, David Bowie — that have evoked the same kind of hooks. Smith Westerns haven’t been shy of making “classic” moves like this in their brief career, either. The cover of their self-titled debut featured the Nevermind baby juxtaposed over, as singer/bassist Cullen Omori and guitarist Max Kakacek stated in a Pitchfork interview, “a painting or something” [of] “the Virgin Mary, like, holding a crying baby or something.”
It’s not just that the band possesses the stones to cop one of the signature images of the 90s for its debut, but it’s the charmingly detached way in which it did, layering the iconic sleeve over “uh, something.” This sense of casual, flippant ‘cool’ presents itself over and over again during Dye It Blonde’s concise 10 songs. The band sounds effortless on tracks like “All Die Young,” a song so grand and expansive it threatens to topple over (sample lyric:“Love is lovely when you are young”) but miraculously doesn’t, owing its sense of grace to moves straight out of the Lennon/Ziggy Stardust/Elton hand book. It’s unnerving to think of twenty year olds busting out this kind of classic songwriting, but here it is, on full display.
The dusty Nuggets vibe of the band’s debut have been mostly brushed away. Their move from garage darling Hozak records to Fat Possum has apparently afforded them some serious studio perks. “Only One” still betrays marks of their lo-fi garage punk roots, but its Stones riffs are bathed in big-time synths, sounding huge despite the band’s meager age. Drummer Cameron Omori is the record’s secret weapon, his drumming suggesting the pomp of E.L.O. drummer Bev Bevan during the band’s golden period.
It would be easy to point out that much of what makes Dye It Blonde so enjoyable are its reference points. “End of the Night” goes for Lennon during the verses, Bowie on the chorus; “Dance Away” pulls all the best moves from the first Strokes record before launching into disco space for the bridge; “Imagine Pt. 3” nicks its grandeur from “Mr. Blue Sky.” Yeah, the band isn’t doing anything that hasn’t been done before, but damn if that doesn’t seem to matter a lick while listening to the record. It’s just too youthful, effervescent, and charming. What’s more, the band comes across entirely genuine, as if questions of authenticity and irony don’t even apply.
Front man Cullen Omori sings, “I want to tell you/ You are hard to resist” in “Still New,” and in addition to being completely indicative of the record’s lyrical formula, it turns out to be a perfect encapsulation of the band’s appeal. He’s probably singing about some peroxide blonde babe, someone like the big-chested lady featured on the back of the album, but he might as well be singing about the band’s allure, all at once fleeting, nostalgic and honestly fetching.