Tag Archives: Smith Westerns

The Year. 15-11

15. Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde [US]

“Fuzz band goes clean on second record” is the new “female celebrity gains/loses weight”, but I can’t stop mentioning it. It’s especially fun with Smith Westerns because they’re not surfy or garagey. With the curtains thrown open, they are essentially Mott the Hoople, which has strange connotations for their indie rock critical Venn Diagram. Glam rock is not really something that people attempt successfully in an indie rock milieu. And to do it without the glamour? With just the Mick Ronson riffs? It’s weirder than it gets credit for, weirder at this point than the willful sonic messing in the genre that ‘experimental’ is turning into. Fuck, like, Smith Westerns like Oasis. How do they manage to stay good, and avoid being the most annoying thing since… Oasis? If you’ve read anything written on this blog about indie pop since about 2009, you’ll know the justification about to be dropped here. SONGS. Still New is like a version of All The Young Dudes for 2011, except it’s not even for 2011. Dye The World is one of those TOTP 1970 compilation anthems where the lyrics are about what ‘we’ should do to ‘the world’ to make it cool for the teenagers as opposed to lame parents who went to war and want you to finish your dinner. Weekend is just riffs. We like that type of thing around here, songs you just already like and then have to describe in stupid-sounding terms.
A short interview transcript from this blog, where I ask dude if he genuinely, seriously likes Oasis and the HRO post with a (taken down) video by a girl who stalks Smith Westerns, where I got my only ever first comment.

Smith Westerns – Dye The World

14. Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – Belong [US]

When I originally reviewed this for Totally Dublin in March, I ended the 75 word piece with the following sentence: “There’s no doubt that they lay the emotion on thick, but they’re good enough at it to make a certain type of person cry.” The problem with that, if you’re into the rough approximation of theory that exists for music criticism, is obviously that it’s an uncomfortably subjective way of appraising a record. Still, I knew I liked the record, and I knew that if I didn’t admit that sort of subjectivity into the review, I’d end up tearing it apart. Belong is like the injured faun of albums, from a critical perspective. There’s a huge list of things you could complain about. Homage to the point of pastiche or even plagiarism. Americans doing Sarah Records-type twee emotion, with all the problems that entails. An extremely conscious ditching of the 80s pastiche lo-fi sound that took some defending in the first place for an 80s pastiche hi-fi sound. But if you want to like this (and it is an excellent record), you need to just accept all that. Allow yourself to be sad alongside some of the best things to be sad with. New Order drums, reverberating guitars, high, glassy synths and simple boy-girl lyrics delivered with the utmost whispery sincerity. If tambourines and big slow guitar strum swells sicken you rather than fill you with feelings or whatever, you’re probably safe sticking to Untrue. But Belong has an aesthetic, and within that aesthetic, it has some great music. The title track could be used in schools as an example of a perfect soft rock song. Anne With An E is Galaxie 500 level hopelessness-of-all-your-endeavours mournful love music. Belong is a good record.
A video of dogs hanging out of cars, Pains doing a live thing in my friends’ apartment courtyard and my interview with Kip.

Pains of Being Pure At Heart – Belong

13. Vivian Girls – Share The Joy [US]

Hey, it’s those three girls that are bad at playing their instruments in an endearing way. It seems to be getting less endearing to a lot of people. Share The Joy’s not exactly a critically acclaimed record, and one of the things I found interesting from reviews is that Pitchfork mentioned a song that “never really builds toward much of anything”. That’s surely a flawed understanding of the point of a Vivian Girls song, like complaining that a Daniel Johnston song is too naïve or a Dragonforce song is emotionally heavy-handed. Build and release isn’t the only way to make rock music and, strangely, the song in question, The Other Girls, does actually go somewhere. But still, the perceived ‘loss of immediacy’ from previous records is symptomatic of focusing on the wrong thing to like. Share The Joy is, as far as I can tell from my scientific experiments, based on a construction of a false past. They’re the kind of simple melodies, both the sung ones and the one-string guitar ones, you pluck out in a teenage bedroom, except the teenage bedroom Vivian Girls built isn’t real, and it’s not even a real simulation of a 50s or 60s one the way some garage bands’ garages are simulations. It’s a selective remembering, and the whole point is the projected innocence, the not-knowing. Teenage feelings with all of the missing context that implies. Dance if you wanna. Don’t be like the other girls. Stop freaking out over that dude or whatever.
Doing oohs down the phone. Also, r u fallin in ❤ with Kickball Katy? (A: Yes)

Vivian Girls – Dance (If You Wanna)

12. Rustie – Glass Swords [UK]

“Having a good night, man?”
“Yeah, it’s good craic, yeah.”
“This tune’s a fucking ripper isn’t it?”
“Yeah it’s fucking class, man.”
“Just on the drink yourself is it?”
“Nah, nah.”
“Oh you dropped did you?”
“Yeah, I did yeah.”
“Long ago?”
“Yeah a while ago now, yeah.”
“Are you feeling it yet, no?”
“Fucking flying, man.”
“Ahhhhh, good man! Not bad are they?”
“Yeah they’re deadly, man.”
“Gonna stall it in and have a bit of a dance are you?”
“Yeah fuck it yeah, let’s stall it.”
“This is a fucking RIPPER.”
A summer mix by Rustie for NPR and a real old Jamie Lidell remix that’s still deadly.

Rustie – Ultra Thizz

11. Tune-Yards – Whokill [US]

Whokill is effectively a recasting of the forms of past music, which is what everyone does these days. In this case, it’s in the form of taking the shape of a jazz rhythm and replacing the parts until it’s still in the shape of a jazz song but isn’t a jazz song any more. To dismiss it as knowingly clever, glib genre tourism (or “Guardian music section bullshit” as one of the critical discourses I regularly engage with calls it) is appealing but pointlessly reductive. There’s nothing functionally different about Tune-yards using a reggae or jazz rhythm than a wonky song being built around one, and it’s about what you build with the plans anyway, not the plans themselves. There’s also an appealing indifference towards sanding down the edges, but in what sounds like a deliberate and studied way, like a version of Dave Longstreth that is willing to countenance the idea that it might be enough for music to just be fun. It might be cynical to ascribe all the talk of “politics” to the fact that Merrill Garbus is a woman with a moustache, so I’m not going to do that. Thinking about this as a political record is about as useful for your own sanity and enjoyment as thinking about E-40 as a Christian Rap artist though. What’s good about Whokill comes from the interlocking melodies, the scrapbook borrowings, the parts where things intentionally don’t fit so that you can’t switch off mentally while you listen. The way it’s built, the little weirdnesses, are the makings of real immediacy, a Deerhoof-type ability to use things that are most definitely not the stuff of pop music to create something that is as straightforwardly pleasing to listen to as pop music.
Mark Richardson interview at Pitchfork and a song live, looking like fun festival music.

Tune-Yards – Es-So


Them’s The Vagaries: The Vagaries So Far

Them’s The Vagaries is still powering onwards, with occasional A-list guests and lots of talk about music and pop culture from two people who are dripping swagu. One is still me, and the other is still Seán McTiernan, presumed to be the only person in Kilkenny’s storied history who has heard of Stresmatic. We make jokes and care deeply about music, usually simultaneously.

Catch up, or if you haven’t listened, pick an episode you like the look of.

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Episode 12: Be Careful What You Wish For… – with Darragh McCausland of Asleep On The Compost Heap (and Come Dine With Me). Internal machinations of Come Dine With Me, sex talk, pork cheeks, Grizzly Man, anime soundtracks and some 2011 music talk. There is also a 20 minute section where we review eight types of sour sweet available in Dublin City Centre. Interval entertainment is “Dear 16 Year Old Me” by the Silly Beggar dudes.

Episode 11: The Haunted Mask – The music of 2011 so far, taking in:
[non-raps] Fucked Up, Drainland, Tim Hecker, Iceage, Celtic Frost, Squarehead, Grinderman, Hauschka, Hunx and His Punx, Vivian Girls, Smith Westerns, Nicolas Jaar, John Maus and Toby Kaar
[raps] Tyler, the Creator, Kanye, Jay-Z, Jay Electronica, Envy, Kreayshawn, Elzhi, DJ Quik, Young L, Rick Ross, Meek Mill, E-40, Das Racist, El-P, Clams Casino, Araabmuzik, oOoOo, G-Side, Main Attrakionz, Spaceghostpurrp, NoEmotion, Cadence Weapon, Shabazz Palaces, Action Bronson, Rittz and, apropos of nothing, a lot of me talking shit about A Tribe Called Quest.

Episode 10: The Ghost Next Door – with Orla Ryan, who has a secret job and was a recurring favourite on Seán’s old podcast Ah Here (which you can make him send you if you want – sean mc tiernan at gmail dot com). We talk about Battles and Aphex Twin’s riders at Forbidden Fruit, Sufjan Stevens’ spaceship live show and Jim Corr being a fucking nutcase, plus more.

Episode 9: Welcome To Camp Nightmare – with Megan Nolan, stand-up comedienne, former DJ of a hip hop duo and general woman about town. We talk about her life as the slapsifier of a rap group, music we had forgotten about and terrible racist jokes on the underground comedy circuit.

Episode 8: The Girl Who Cried Monster – in the only episode apart from the first one to take place indoors, we occupy the Arts Block of Trinity on a day on which it was only open so tourists could use the toilet. We talk Irish-themed punk, pro wrestling (specifically Botchamania), DJ Quik and Suga Free being god-tier, the Pitchfork movie, Anal Cunt, David Norris, Gerry Ryan and Beepy Fallon.

Episode 7: The Night of the Living Dummy – Forbidden Fruit festival analysis, an anecdote about Sean’s dad and gigs and getting pissed on, Neutral Milk Hotel, Big and Rich, Kanye’s Monster video, Ian Svenonius, Ian Mackaye and Henry Rollins.

Episode 6: Let’s Get Invisible – We talk about old music on the occasion of Bob Dylan’s birthday. Bruce Springsteen and Stephen Fry denounced as mark ass bitches by me and Sean respectively.

Episode 5: The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb – Macho Man, Kreayshawn, violent films, how to recommend stuff to people, pogs, etc.

Episode 4: Say Cheese And Die! – RZA’s movie, professional wrestling, idiots dancing to Shellac, De La Soul, Animal Collective, etc.

Episode 3: Monster Blood – Odd Future (the week Goblin came out and thus the last time all conversation centred around Tyler), the Prince Disagreement, The Beatles, Westwood, drops on rap mixtapes, etc.

Episode 2: Stay Out Of The Basement – covers of rap songs both good (jazz trio Odd Future) and bad (steampunk), Obama burning Trump, the freemasons, etc.

Episode 1: Welcome To The Dead House – Earl Sweatshirt being found, Nardwuar being great, the Led Zeppelin Disagreement, etc.

Lo-Fi Friday #5: Smith Westerns transcript

One of my favourite new bands in this sort of milieu (and I do listen to things other than rap music, but it’s just tended to be 10+ years old recently) is Smith Westerns. Their narrative on a meta level is pretty familiar: their first album sounded lo-fi, they decided they didn’t want to be lo-fi any more once they could afford it, and they made a second album that’s much clearer. They still have a lot of tropes of that sort of music and I think it’s fair to put even that second album (Dye It Blonde) on the fringes of lo-fi beside (and slightly closer to the centre than) Surfer Blood. But where the Surfy Bloods reconstitute Generation X-era MTV rock, Smith Westerns funnel T-Rex and even Mott The Hoople through that recognisable disruption of clarity. I sent them these questions for AU, but they weren’t back in time to be used for the piece.

Smith Westerns – Still New

So you have an almost decadent kind of sound at times, but it comes through that dreamy reverb kinda lo-fi filter. Was that a decision you made, to mix those aesthetics?

I don’t think it’s really lo-fi at all. The rest of the band and I feel that Dye It Blonde is very high gloss both in comparison to our debut record and to many records from various other new bands. I think the guitars, back up vocals, and layered synths as well as other instruments make the sound very indulgent and the reverb adds a depth of dreaminess that prevents the songs from sounding too aggressive.

What do you think about being talked about in glam terms because of the guitar riffs or whatever – do you think having the word ‘glam’ written about you might misdirect people a little?

I mean, at this point, I prefer glam used over garage; but both terms I think miss the mark when describing our sound. I think that at certain points in songs some glam influence is revealed but then just as quickly a different influence rears its head. Kinda like the way in the song Only One sounds part Cosmic Dancer [by T-Rex] and part Come As You Are [by Nirvana].

Are you part of a nostalgia movement? You’ve played with people like Girls and even Nobunny who might be considered part of one.

I don’t think I’ve lived life long enough to be nostalgic about anything. The thing I feel most nostalgic about is touring last year with GIRLS and MGMT. Oh, and recording the record. We’ve played with a lot of bands. GIRLS are our really good friends and I respect them on multiple levels and fit musically together on a bunch of different levels but we’re not really nostalgic. We don’t want to be a revivalist band or be labeled as that.

What’s the main difference with coming from Chicago and doing what you do rather than Brooklyn or California or wherever?

I think for us it was the isolation of having no real musical theme coming from Chicago. I think a lot of other cities have a certain aesthetic or sound that kinda permeates all the bands but in Chicago we were left to develop our own thing. Also being underage in Chicago prevented us from mingling with other Chicago bands other than maybe playing an instore or house party together with them.

You’re less young compared to other bands than you were when people started talking about you. Is it a relief that that’s not The Thing to talk about any more?

Yeah, I think that people are starting to get over our age but it’s still brought up in a lot of interviews, reviews, and features. So it really hasn’t disappeared. We’re still younger than most bands we’re compared to or play with but yeah it’s nice not having to hear “they’re good for their age” as much.

What’s something about your music that people don’t notice enough?

I think the layering and the lyrics.

Do you actually still like Oasis, and if so are you Team Noel or Team Liam?

What do you mean? Of course I still like Oasis, never really stopped. I’m still a huge fan and would never pick sides. United we stand, Divided we fall.

What was your favourite Nobunny song to play?

That was a long time ago, back in 2008/2009. Can’t really remember.

When are you coming to play Ireland?

I hope soon, Cameron and I are half Irish actually so all the more incentive.