Smith Westerns - Soft Will - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Smith Westerns - Soft Will

by Amy Putman Rating:9.5 Release Date:2013-06-24

I have discovered the truth and it was hidden in plain sight all along; Smith Westerns are really Doctor Who. I have evidence. Point one, 'Best Friends' has an opening that sounds exactly like a Tardis in flight. Surely no mere mortal could have recreated such a glorious and alien sound, which leads me to believe there is only one solution: it was recorded live.

Point two, their sounds zig-zag, spiral and generally meander through the history of rock and pop music. Perhaps that might not seem enough, but the alacrity and ability with which they do so, playing each trend and blend as well as the originals lends me to believe they must have had private tutoring from those self-same individuals. Point three, they all have the kind of haircuts that could fit in anywhere from the middle ages to (if Bill & Ted is anything to go by, which I sincerely hope it is... and well could be judging by the retro-80s trends that have hogged the last decade) the far future.

I know Doctor Who technically doesn't need to try to fit in but you have to admit it would be handy in case someone got past the psychic stuff. If they are indeed Doctor Who then I can only conclude that the best of all the Doctors, one great Doctor yet to come, jacked in the whole saving the world lark and instead somehow grabbed his favourite versions of himself from his own timeline in order to form a really rockin', awesome, wicked cool band.... much like Bill and Ted would, I guess.

This album immediately grabs the soul with a Beatles-esque opening, refigured with early 2000s skater vocals. This might sound like too much for one track to handle, an amalgam of iconic trends with too great a gap between them, but Smith Westerns bridge that chasm and it works, it really works. They also bridge the gap between seeming earnest and aloof; they seem mysterious, inspiring and starry, but their words are down-to-earth and full of feeling.

The lyrics add depth to their incredibly catchy, pretty music, full of simple yet profound observations and empathy for contemporary life. They manage to sum up complex ideas in concise sentences; phrases like "You don't look like you do on TV" exemplify the profound distance between media or dreams and normal life. In other places, through carefully drawn scenes such as someone looking through a magazine, they ably conjure metaphors for the dissonance between perception and reality, belief and insecurity. It's cinematic and philosophical. For all that, they are also down to earth and accessible, summing up the trials and frustrations of ambition and fear of failure with the simple phrase that it's "easier to think you're dumb".

This is a band which will readily appeal to anyone reared on grunge or Britpop, yet it also has moments of glorious, almost overblown old-school rock, reminiscent of Queen, or maybe Kiss. This album also includes exciting sounds which deliberately confuse any sense of balance, bringing a rich intensity mingled in with gentle, explorative rock.

The singer's voice is a little bit Dinosaur Jr; it has the wispy texture underwritten with serious throttle and excellent range. It twists and turns seamlessly, meaning that, even if you try to do something else at the same time, you can't zone out. This is music which rewards your undivided attention with constant sips of pleasure and aural delicacies.

'Varsity' is a particular favourite of mine. It had me singing along on my fist ever listen without being predictable. It just instantly gets under your skull and writhes around your brain like a sea of infinitely catchy waves, tunes and ditties. It had more than a touch of the classics of The Beach boys, mingled perhaps with a more contemporary tune-writing force, like The Walkmen.

'3 AM spiritual' could be the anthem of our generation, once filled with hopes and ambitions, ground down by the harsh realities of the depression, yet still clinging to the vestiges of musical fantasy and romance. I would love to know the story behind 'Idol', which contains some of the loveliest lyrics I have heard in a long while. 'White Oath', meanwhile, is pretty and pared-down but touches the raging animal core that the modern, domesticated, dutifully pleasant human keeps at her centre, tearing through the layers of business dress and overpriced beer chub with some simply awesome guitar.

'XXIII' contains a simply amazing instrumental which builds and builds, firing out the sounds of old futurism tangled with indie like a space laser battle, warping the colours of light speed. Imagine a cross between Tangerine Dream and Blur, if you can.... or if you dare. It's beautiful, but not usual. In my mind, that makes it even better but it isn't for the faint-hearted, doubtful, or ordinary minded.

'Cheer Up' is both sad and hopeful. Like a parent gently explaining to a naive 10-year-old that santa isn't real, they lay their arm around you and explain in straightforward, clear but gentle tones that life is not like TV shows. This track sums up the kindly gist of the album, and the spirit of the band; the kind of affable buddies who don't purport to know the meaning of like and understand that sometimes you are out of luck, but just punch you on the arm, buy you a lager, tell you a filthy joke and hope that you will cheer up in spite of dire circumstances.

In some ways, it's the spirit of resilience under pressure; the idea that no matter how bad things get, you might as well laugh and try to be happy because crying solves nothing. It might seem old-fashioned but it's a welcome change after the studied wallowing of the emo years. This is the take of the subdued dreamer, grown up and perhaps disappointed but studiously focussing on the gems in a life of gravel and moths, a stark and wonderful change from the emotional indulgence and childish greed of the boom years.

This album is indie but in the best possible way. It resembles early-90s Britpop more than the often insipid new indie. At the same time, it's not retro but a new hybrid species, vamped up with 70s inspired riffs. This strange breed of music is at times dreamy but never wishy-washy; explorative but always returning to the solid ground of their known talent. Not to stretch a point, but that doesn't sound entirely unlike a certain whimsical but strong blue-boxed traveller... but, then again, a light air of mystery suits them all.

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