Highlights: 3am Spiritual, Idol, White Oath, Varsity
I should start by saying that Dye It Blonde, the band’s second album, was one of my personal favourites from 2011. It was such a brilliant collection of lush indie-pop songs filled with some of that year’s greatest hooks and sung in that slightly overexcited voice of youthful optimism. Mercifully, the production was much more polished than on their deliriously lo-fi debut (melodies buried ten feet underground), and the process of refinement shows no signs of subsiding on Soft Will.
Remember the glorious, criminally infectious chant at the end of “All Die Young”? Well, it sounds like they don’t have much time for that anymore. Upbeat moments are few, and if there are some, they just don’t come off all that upbeat. It’s a lot more stately, a lot less spontaneous, and the tunes take some time to seduce you. Eventually, though, seduce you they do. Classy vocal hooks shimmer through delicious slide licks or tastefully strummed acoustic guitars, and the melodies are uniformly excellent. Just a bit more calculated this time. “Glossed” is a little too glossed. Lovely, well-written, but I just miss the punch. “XXIII” is a smart instrumental that certainly has a stylish hint of Dark Side Of The Moon to it, but I’m not sure it is smart instrumentals that I need from Smith Westerns. Thankfully, most of the other songs deliver. The bookend tracks in particular: the opening “3am Spiritual” is gorgeous and heartfelt (would have been a terrific closer) and the closing “Varsity” is just a classic pop single (would have made a terrific opener).
This album reminds me of last year’s Shut Down The Streets by A.C. Newman. Its effect on you is not immediate, but each new listen proves that you really are dealing with great songwriting. I’d just like a little more fun, a little more excitement on album number four.