Smith Westerns: "Varsity"

from Soft Will (Mom + Pop; 2013)

By Maura McAndrew | 4 April 2013

For some reason, I always feel like I’m not supposed to like Smith Westerns. It could be that they’re so young (with irritating haircuts to prove it), and their songs so unabashedly flush with the drama of youthful indiscretion; 2011’s impressive sophomore effort Dye it Blonde even included a song called “All Die Young.” But there’s also the nagging feeling that enjoying Smith Westerns is just too easy. Giving in to such ingratiating pop music feels like hanging a poster of The Starry Night on one’s wall—it’s so accessible it risks diminishing returns.

But Smith Westerns’ music is so addictive and buoyant that it somehow weasels its way out of this predicament, knocking me flat every time I hear it. The triumphant glam rock of Dye it Blonde established Smith Westerns as a force to be reckoned with after the humble garage rock of their debut. They’re no longer just kids singing about crushes and getting drunk (though they do sing about those things), but they’ve created their own unique brand of full-bodied pop music, leaning towards bubblegum but always snapping back when it gets too close, diverting onto a path just jagged enough or ethereal enough to remain interesting.

The new track from this summer’s Soft Will, “Varsity,” is a fine example of what Smith Westerns do best. It’s clearly not a departure from Dye it Blonde—dreamier and less bouncy, maybe, but just as intoxicating. “Varsity” is synth pop that floats, like the Cure slowed down and soothed by Cullen Omori’s distant, echoing vocals. Every Smith Westerns song is a triumphant end-of-movie song, and while a whole album at this fevered pitch might be a bit exhausting, no one does singles right now quite like this band. “Varsity,” with its exultant chord progression and vaguely relatable lyrics about being alone and sad and yearning, is just fevered enough.

► “Varsity”