Smith Westerns' self-titled debut album had all the scruffy charm of a bunch of high school kids bashing out ultra-catchy rock & roll tunes in their garage and recording it on a boom box. Which it basically was. The record had all kinds of rambunctious energy, glitter pop hooks, and lo-fi appeal. The question on the follow-up is whether or not moving to a more professional recording setup would sap the power and individuality out of the group’s sound. Luckily, Dye It Blonde is just as rowdy and full of life, only this time you can hear what’s going on a lot better. Where a lot of the debut sounded like T. Rex in a teacup (or a tornado), this record goes for more of a budget Mott the Hoople approach. Lots of midtempo ballads with singalong choruses, pounding piano, and swooping organ, and a loose, frayed-around-the-edges, boys-together feel place the album firmly in the Mott style. The production by Chris Coady plays up the strengths of the band like the boyish lead vocals, the super hooky choruses, and the great guitar work. Everything blends together perfectly without sounding glossy or overcooked, and the guitar tone is especially nice, totally overdriven but super compressed with plenty of punch. Of course a sound without songs is like a pretty homebaked cake that tastes like Dolly Madison, and the band deliver a batch of them here that make the total package quite tasty. The rockers like "Weekend," "Dance Away," and "Imagine, Pt.3" have a pleasing swagger, the midtempo tracks (like "Fallen in Love" and "End of the Night") bounce along happily, and the ballads have all kinds of ragged soul. Sounding both end-of-the-night epic and heartbreakingly sad, these songs provide some depth that the first record didn’t have. Dye It Blonde may be a step away from the lo-fi bedroom sound toward the mainstream, but it’s a small step, and they retain more than enough of the songcraft and attitude to keep things interesting. Anyone who liked the debut and was filled with apprehension about what would happen next will be pleasantly surprised, and might even end up liking this record more. ~ Tim Sendra
1Weekend
2Still New
3Imagine, Pt. 3
4All Die Young
5Fallen in Love
6End of the Night
7Only One
8Smile
9Dance Away
10Dye the World