SMITH WESTERNS' 'SOFT WILL' AND OTHER NEW CD RECOMMENDATIONS

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 Smith Westerns third album, Soft Will, takes another step away from the scruffy lo-fi approach of their debut, and puts a layer of gloss on the already slick sound they captured on Dye It Blonde. The thing to keep in mind when you’re a band gradually smoothing out and expanding your sound is to make sure you keep whatever it was about your band that made it worthwhile in the first place, and to do something to keep it interesting. The band does both here. The wistfully sincere songwriting is as strong as ever, and while they may have cast off their youthful energy in favor of a more melancholy mood, the subtle hooks are just as sharp and the songs hit home. Leaving their pocket-sized Mott the Hoople crunch behind for the most part, the band aims for something more restrained and arranged, filling out the songs with sweeping synthesizer strings and layers of acoustic guitars. The synths are a nice addition that gives the songs some depth and sonic richness. Indeed much more care has been given overall to the arrangements and the mood they create, and the songs definitely benefit from the effort. There’s nothing that stands out as a single, but almost every song has a melody that grabs you, or at least a sound that draws you in. The more uptempo tracks like “Fool Proof” and “Idol” hook you first, but the slower, more contemplative ones sink in the deepest. Cullen Omori‘s voice may not be the most powerful around but he can deliver enough pathos to at least bend a heart, and Smith Westerns‘ assured delivery allows them to slow it down without getting boring. The best of the bunch is the album-ending “Varsity,” which comes off like a well-crafted, very Midwestern indie rock take on M83Smith Westerns may have gradually sloughed off all their fans who liked the swaggering lo-fidelity style they began with, but with Soft Will, they should gain back some people who like thoughtful, melodically rich indie rock that isn’t sleepy or clichéd or boring. This album is none of those things and, thanks to their actual growth as artists, it may be their best yet.-allmusic.com

 

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