Lorde – The Love Club EP review

Sixteen year-old New Zealand singer-songwriter has been making waves since the release of her first EP titled The Love Club. Her single “Royals” has been picked up by US independent and college radio stations and is gaining traction. Her voice sounds mature despite her young age and is cleverly recorded with complex, minimalist, yet forward-thinking beats. Lorde, born Ella Yelich-O’Connor, was actually signed to Universal at age 13 after an A&R scout saw video of her performing at a school talent show. Years later, she unveiled her talents to the world. Since blowing up the charts in New Zealand, Lorde released The Love Club EP in the US this June and saw it sell 85,000 copies in it’s first week.

Her songs are poppy and vocally driven, with innovative beats to rival the best in hip-hop. “Bravado” opens the collection with a sort of personal admission that she knew she was destined to be here someday. Our heroine sings: “I was raised up to be admired, to be known.” Layered vocals preclude the entrance of a dynamic beat. Lorde, who writes her own songs, sounds confident in her delivery. The nuances in the production make for a well-rounded and exciting listen.

“Royals” is far and away her strongest song on the EP. Witty lyrics describe an opposition to the materialistic boasting that is often found in pop-culture and popular music. She bounces through the pre-chorus, singing: “Everybody’s like: ‘Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on a time piece, jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash,’ we don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair… we’ll never be royals….” This type of perspective is perfect for a generation more in tune to the issues of the world. The generation who is growing up with iphones giving them a world of information at their finger-tips… subsequently creating a generation too knowledgable to be caught up in meaningless materialism, especially in the midsts of today’s world economy. The layered chorus almost literally soars, bringing the listener to new heights of appreciation. “Royals” is infectious and content driven; it is no surprise this song is such a hit.

More impressive production is displayed on “Million Dollar Bills” and “The Love Club” which feature beats created out of Lorde’s own vocal samples. This innovation gives Lorde a unique sound. “Million Dollar Bills” has the energy of a club song mixed with the lo-fi keys one might find in a Foster the People tune. These tow songs sound more typical for a high school artist: cheeky and energetic. The closing track, “Biting Down,” has more of an experimental, “out-there” vibe, with Lorde unexplainably repeating “it feels better biting down” over a pulsing beat. 

Lorde has released a few singles since the release of this EP, namely “Tennis Court” and “Swinging Party.” She has plans to release her first full length album in September 2013, which will be titled Pure Heroine. With The Love Club EP, Lorde has successfully provided a teaser to build hype for a huge response on her first full length album. Stay tuned.

Violent Soho Premiere ‘Dope Calypso’ video

Violent Soho Premiere ‘Dope Calypso’ Video On Clash || ‘Hungry Ghost’ LP Out September 6th On I Oh You

‘Dope Calypso’ is the opening track from ‘Hungry Ghost’. The video is directed by Timothy O’Keefe and follows the band around their hometown of Mansfield, Queensland.

The Buddhist concept of the ‘hungry ghost’ neatly sums up the urgency, the want, the search of Violent Soho’s music. Amid the riffs, hooks and wail of front man Luke Boerdam is a stark examination of the way we view the world, and the way consumer culture feeds relentlessly on itself and its urges. A fitting theory for an unapologetic, no-bullshit post-grunge cacophony, as laid bare on the Brisbane, Australia four-piece’s second album, “Hungry Ghost”.

Following 2010’s accomplished self-titled album (released on Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label) which delivered riffage-heavy highlights such as ‘Jesus Stole My Girlfriend’ and ‘Muscle Junkie’, the band found themselves at an impasse. The band, which have toured the US with Dinosaur Jr, Alice In Chains, Built To Spill and The Bronx, found themselves treading water creatively after years of touring.

But what it took to snap Luke and his bandmates — James Tidswell (guitar/vocals), Luke Henery (bass) and Michael Richards (drums) — out of the funk was a realization that all of their touring and experiences had given them a new perspective on music; hard work and that new thematic inspiration would lead to its own reward. “It was a process of figuring out what we did like,” Luke explains, “rather than concentrating on what we used to do. We’ve changed and grown as people, so the music we were writing needed to reflect that. Whatever excited us, those are the songs that we went with.”

What emerged on “Hungry Ghost” was a character study of the personalities and ideas of consumer society that inform their hometown of Brisbane suburb Mansfield, examining “the concept of the outsider, people who are a little bizarre and how they view the world”. And from the opening bars of ‘Dope Calypso’, chock full of fuzzy, tumbling riffs through to the subtle, almost delicate psychedelic swirl of ‘Okay Cathedral’, “Hungry Ghost” is Violent Soho growing up. “It’s stuff like status anxiety,” explains Luke, “and worrying about living up to other people’s standards, and in the process become so distracted, sitting on the couch watching other people live their lives. That mentality is behind it”.

There are, of course, still the ‘holy shit’ musical moments. The throat-tearing “yeahyeahyeahyeah” of ‘Covered In Chrome’, the grungy rock’n’roll power of ‘Gold Coast’ and ‘Lowbrow’s spitting anger. But the tempered slow burn of the album’s title-track demonstrates the maturation of the band’s melodic nous, continuing the work of the last record’s ‘Outsider’ and ‘Paper Planes‘. Adding to that are the shades of full throttle attack and pensive rumination on ‘Eightfold’ and ‘Saramona Said‘.

The band’s ability to relay a compelling character study and their broadened musical palette quickly dispel any notion of Violent Soho being some sort of slacker stoner band only interested in weed and skateboarding. “Hungry Ghost” is the album Violent Soho needed to make. Intelligent, melodic, and dripping with attitude, it’s also a record you need to hear.

‘Hungry Ghost’ Track Listing:

1. Dope Calypso
2. Lowbrow
3. Covered in Chrome
4. Saramona Said
5. In The Aisle
6. Okay Cathedral
7. Fur eyes
8. Gold Coast
9. Liars
10. Eightfold
11. Hungry Ghost

Press Quotes:
“‘In The Aisle’ takes all the best chromosomes from the Smashing Pumpkins’ talented DNA. That means densely layered guitar spazzes and melodic punk drawling but there’s also enough scuzz on show to resemble five days without showering” — Noisey [UK]

“Violent Soho have always been on the cusp of greatness, and if “In The Aisle” is anything to go by, they might finally be reaching their full potential” — Indie Shuffle

“‘Generation’ is an irresistible blast of buzz-pop, while ‘Jesus Stole My Girlfriend’ and ‘Muscle Junkie’ suggest the fury and sensual languor of the Pixies.”– The Guardian [UK]

“Scales the energetic highs that made Mudhoney and Nirvana so exhilarating” — BBC6

Ell V Gore Premieres ‘Her Vicious’ Video and tour dates With Dirty Beaches

If Ell V Gore’s Sex Static sounds to you like it was made by four weirdos you’d meet at a pitch black, late night bizarre sex party beating their instruments half to death…well, that’s because it was. Toronto’s Ell V Gore is the project of 24 year old Ell V who has been playing in weirdo punk and no wave bands for the past decade. He is also a man known around town for throwing some of the freakiest late-night parties in the city (when he isn’t manning the microphone at strip clubs in between for cash). Sex Static, their debut EP on Bad Actors, is an industrial punk rock beat-down. It is a visceral, dark, and loud late night album that sounds like Chairs Missing era Wire and The Birthday Party being filtered through a kaleidoscope of 90 shades of black and grey. Known around the city for their stunningly intense live show, the experience has translated well to record. The rhythm section is tight and malicious, the guitars and synthesizers scrape, scratch, and scream, and Ell V’s controlled Lux Interior-esque howl bounces off walls with the guttural intensity of Michael Gira. Weirdos, freaks, and late night delinquents – your party has begun.

About Bad Actors:

Bad Actors is a Toronto based boutique record label focused on bringing you the best from the next generation of the city’s best songwriters, bands, producers, and beat makers. The label is headed by Ben Cook aka Young Guv, a member of Fucked Up, and the brains behind several of Toronto’s most loved and respected musical acts including: No Warning, Yacht Club, Marvelous Darlings, and The Scuzz. His résumé also includes: starring in some of your favorite childhood TV shows, ghostwriting some of the catchiest songs amongst your most beloved guilty pleasures, and producing some of his city’s most promising musical acts. Needless to say, the Guv can bring the goods, and it was only a matter of time before he started his own label. Bad Actors will serve as a stepping-stone to bigger things for young acts, while offering them an opportunity to work closely with one of Toronto’s most creative and energetic musical forces. Upcoming releases on Bad Actors include records from industrial punk freaks Ell V Gore, guitar pop masterminds Actual Water, weirdo soul-goddess MCs Bizzarh, 17 year old producer extraordinaire Harrison and Cook’s own Yacht Club.

Tour With Dirty Beaches:

9/4 – Montreal, QC – SAT
9/6 – New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom
9/8 – Washington, DC – Rock & Roll Hotel
9/9 – Philedelphia, PA – Johnny Brendas
9/11 – Toronto, ON – The Garrison
9/12 – Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle
9/13 – St. Louis, MO – Firebird
9/14 – Nashville, TN – Exit In
9/15 – Birmingham, AL – Bottletree

Praise For Ell V Gore:

“Surging out of the cave like the Birthday Party trying to cover Joy Division’s “Transmission”, [Lobotomy] strikes a masterful balance of barked psychosis and mechanistic precision, of primitive trash-can clang and synth-shocked futurism.”–Pitchfork

“Noisy, viciously catchy no wave from this wonderful Toronto weirdo” — Noisey

scuzzy, gothy post-punk you might expect given what you’ve read to this point. Fans of The Birthday Party, Wire, The Cramps and all things WIERD take note” — Brooklyn Vegan

“[Lobotomy’s] a vicious single that sniffs the glue that built Ty Segall’s Melted and drills cascading rhythms into the back of your head” –Blare Magazine

Susanne Sundfør Announces US Tour, Video Contest

Norwegian songstress Susanne Sundfør is excited to announce a fall US tour, her first stateside string of dates. She will bring her original breed of dark electronic music and beguiling vocals that has drawn critical acclaim throughout the world, following her success in native Norway where her album The Silicone Veil reached # 1 in 2012 and became the biggest selling album of the year. Full tour dates are below.

Additionally, she is inviting fans to create the official video for ‘Among Us’ off The Silicone Veil by uploading their videos to http://genero.tv/susannesundfor by September 17th. The winner will also win $4,000. The winner and finalists will be chosen by Susanne Sundfør and Genero.

Susanne Sundfør Tour Dates:
9/23 – Bardot – Hollywood, CA
9/25 – Bootleg Theater – Los Angeles, CA
9/26 – The Chapel – San Francisco, CA
9/28 – Glasslands – Brooklyn, NY
9/30 – Mercury Lounge – New York, NY

Praise for Susanne Sundfør & The Silicone Veil:

“Thick with mythology and dark as a nighttime thicket.” – Pitchfork “Best New Track”

“The Silicone Veil” is leftfield pop, a thrilling effort. It’s icy, gothic, and strange,
with moments of intentional dissonance.” – Billboard

“A shiny-voiced Norwegian pop star” – Rolling Stone

“A haunting, contradiction-filled work” – MTV

“Single-mindedness and a clear artistic vision coincide,
making Sundfør utterly arresting.” – Mojo ****

“Sundfor has a fantastically powerful, window-bending face-melter of a voice….
it’s quite stunning.”- Q

“If there is a more beautiful and ambitious song this year than ‘White Foxes’…
well, there just isn’t.”. – Uncut ****

“A breathtaking collection of spectral songs… she staked a claim to be the new Bjork. The Silicone Veil’s title track could have taught Florence Welsh a valuable trick…” – The Times UK *****

Mount Kimbie Release Video for “Home Recording”

Cold Spring Fault Less Youth Out Now Via Warp Mount Kimbie Tour North America This Fall

“The duo was incredibly precise . . . in a live setting, there really is no one else out there quite like Mount Kimbie.” Village Voice

“Dancing to Mount Kimbie is like dancing to architecture: it feels like their compositions have hidden passages, back doors, and sky lights, beaming in sneakily beautiful, sun-kissed melodies. They are a modest band making audacious, idiosyncratic music, and I cherished seeing it live.” The Stranger

Having released their acclaimed sophomore record, Cold Spring Fault Less Youth, on Warp earlier this summer, Mount Kimbie have released a vivid, textured video for single, “Home Recording.” Directed by Anthony Dickenson, Rolling Stone hailed the video, “with its elegant blend of jazzy ambiences and dubstep textures, the album conjures vivid imagery by itself . . . Dickenson has created a perfect companion for the music’s evocative drift.”

Building on the success of their debut album, Crooks and Lovers, Mount Kimbie have established themselves as ambitious artists in the experimental arena of electronic music, adding rich textures to layered melodies and on this record, live instrumentation that expands their scope of sound.

The FADER call Cold Spring Fault Less Youth a “subtle epic” while SPIN acknowledge that it “maintains a sense of understated complexity, it’s very different from its predecessor . . . the increased presence of live percussion has created a larger, more organic sound, one now oriented towards the dance floor.” The recently released video for “You Took Your Time (feat. King Krule)” is a bleak, captivating black and white portrait of intertwined characters that results in what Pitchfork calls “something of a grime ballad.”

The duo will be touring North America this Fall, including dates at Seattle’s Decibel Festival with Nicolas Jaar, as well as Mutek Mexico and Asheville’s Mountain Oasis Festival.

Mount Kimbie North American Fall Tour Dates

09.22.13 – Symbiosis Gathering Fest – Oakdale, CA
09.23.13 – Echoplex – Los Angeles, CA
09.24.13 – Porters Pub – San Diego, CA
09.25.13 – DNA Lounge – San Francisco, CA
09.27.13 – Decibel Festival (Showbox Sodo) – Seattle, WA
09.28.13 – Venue – Vancouver, BC
09.29.13 – Doug Fir Lounge – Portland, OR
09.30.13 – Neurolux – Boise, ID
10.02.13 – Urban Lounge – Salt Lake City, UT
10.03.13 – Larimer Lounge – Denver, CO
10.05.13 – Mutek MX – Mexico City, MX
10.07.13 – The Sinclair – Boston, MA
10.08.13 – Music Hall of Williamsburg – Brooklyn, NY
10.09.13 – Black Cat – Washington, DC
10.11.13 – The Loft – Atlanta, GA
10.12.13 – Jack Rabbits – Jacksonville, FL
10.13.13 – Club Downunder – Tallahassee, FL
10.14.13 – The Social – Orlando, FL
10.15.13 – Bardot – Miami, FL
10.17.13 – Republic – New Orleans, LA
10.18.13 – Walters – Houston, TX
10.19.13 – Red 7 – Austin, TX
10.20.13 – Club Dada – Dallas, TX
10.22.13 – Lincoln Hall – Chicago, IL
10.23.13 – The Basement – Columbus, OH
10.26.13 – Carnegie Mellon – Pittsburgh, PA
10.27.13 – Mountain Oasis Festival – Asheville, NC

LITE – Installation album review

LITE’s newest album, quite appropriately titled Installation, is precisely what it seems.  Light. By this I mean, bright, radiant, up—something to rouse to.

I must admit that when I think about instrumental music I generally think Bill Evans, piano, saxophone, jazz, classical not Japanese “math rock.” What Nobuyuki, Takeda, Jun and Akinori have produced, however, is lively, unique, and somewhat mind bending. All ten tracks are engagingly spirited—rhythmically complex, textural, and shamelessly weird. They make you want to keep listening.

Take the first track, “Starry Morning” a tinkering, twinkling personification of its title that essentially builds a bridge to musical outer space—i.e. nowhere.  The following track, called ‘Echolocation’ (another tonal embodiment of its name) does not appear to be connected by any rhythmic or timely transition to its predecessor, it simply arrives as track number two.  This is the case throughout Installation, which, for an instrumental album, is yet again the dramatic opposite of what one might expect.

The track titles themselves provide the only typically instrumental quality of the entire project.  ‘Starry Night’ sounds like a collection of winking stars (pinged on a xylophone perhaps), ‘Echolocation’ is bouncy, fuzzy and undeniably (it would seem) linked to bio sonar (think of the dolphins in those grainy high school biology videos), ‘Fog Up’ is thick and murky, and ‘Alter Ego’ switches seamlessly between a glowing, buoyant Dr. Jekyll and a sinister, swampy Mr. Hyde.  With no lyrics it is of course simple (and common) to over-analyze track titles, but regardless—it’s fun, which certainly appears to be a major part of the point for LITE.

Installation is nothing more and nothing less than an instrumental, progressive (or “math”) rock album should be… and the best part is that who knows what an instrumental, progressive (or “math”) rock album should be! All that is known is that LITE has emerged with thirty-five minutes of solid, euphonic entertainment.

The Grove Festival: Phoenix

Phoenix started their set with the first track from their new album Bankrupt!, aptly titled Entertainment. By this time the park had completely filled up, and people were pressing aggressively towards the blue lights filtering off of the stage. I was behind a fence, stage right, watching the sea of neon wayfarers fist pump through the first few tracks. By all accounts the energy was there. Girlfriends were propped up on their boyfriend’s shoulders, there was a lot of looking back to see if the people behind you were seeing what you were seeing, as we do when we are watching spectacle. We had all gotten to the point where we were screaming for the volume to be cranked all the way up in order to have our faces pushed back as we pushed forward with our arms raised. Matrixes of lights crisscrossed in front of us; floating pictures and video were projected onto a screen behind the band; and eventually we all gasped at pyrotechnics.

Somewhere around the third or fourth track however, Phoenix lost my attention, and I settled into really wondering if this band was worth the production value their team had quite obviously put into their show. So I did a little research and discovered that lighting technicians/ ‘The Light Show’ costs somewhere between $150,000-$500,000 per concert. That’s incredible! Especially if you take into consideration how much the musicians are actually making. If the record company is the one promoting the event, then they get paid and the artist makes a percentage of the total tickets sales and from that manager fees, promoter fees, road crew, road crew beers, and all the bits and bobs of travel are also paid out. In fact the only direct way to pay the band is by buying their merch, which if you like the band is something that you should be doing every time.
I began to wonder what we as viewers are actually paying for: the music, or the show. Moreover, how have these terms become mutually exclusive!? Today, the relevance of these questions has become paramount when considering how music junkies can participate in helping the industry out of the red. Concerts themselves are becoming the last stand for listener appreciation. Music streaming, pirating, and a myriad of other ways to get your music for free is slowly killing the industry. As my friend Baz always says, businesses crumple under the pressure of these ‘million little paper cuts.’ Q Music Corp. has no other choice but to rely on concert goers for steady income, and so begs the question: What are we paying for?

This is not to say that Phoenix isn’t a band without merit, and that I didn’t enjoy feeling the swell of the music and the crowd. Phoenix IS popular for a reason. Somewhere during their set though, the lights took over and they seemed to be only a live soundtrack to the dancing blue beams, strobe lights, and eventually the fireworks. Bottom line, the lights outshined the band, and as a trend that’s a huge problem.

As the show began to power down, the lights went out, and we began to hear the tinkling organ keys of the title track, Bankrupt!. In those fleeting seconds of darkness and clean notes everything that I just said gelled in my brain and I understood how important clean music was to me. As the song transitioned, the lights flooded up, and we all broke into a comfortable sway, mesmerized by the lights and Thomas Mars’ cool vocals. When the song faded, so did the light, and so the day was over. When I walked out of the park ten minutes later, little yellow ringed black dots still plagued my vision.

The Bullitts – They Die By Dawn And Other Short Stories album review

Meet your new favorite artist. Not only can Jeymes Samuel sing, write and produce his own material, and play guitar and piano, he has even created his own genre. Samuel, otherwise known by the stage name The Bullitts, says his music is under the genre “action-adventure,” because he’s musically fearless and “assassinates all rules” with his music. His debut album They Die By Dawn And Other Short Stories is Samuel’s debut album and the accompanying soundtrack to They Die By Dawn, a fifty-minute Western film he directed. (Did we mention he’s into film too?) The film They Die By Dawn stars actress Rosario Dawson, who is also featured on Samuel’s album, along with actress Lucy Liu and rapper Jay Electronica, who was compared by various YouTube commenters to Grammy Award-winning rapper Lupe Fiasco. Also featured on the album is singer/songwriter Tori Amos and several others.

Not all of Samuel’s songs have official videos yet, but the ones that do each tell a different story. For example, the video for his popular 2011 single “Close Your Eyes” (featuring voiceovers by Lucy Liu and a verse by Jay Electronica) is based off of the 1929 surrealist film Un Chien Andalou. For Samuel, film and music have always gone hand in hand. I read an online interview with him in which he stated that his song-producing process typically consists of recording a song and then creating an accompanying short film, or creating a short film beforehand and then writing a song to provide the soundtrack for it. Samuel was also executive music consultant for the 2013 film The Great Gatsby, providing him the opportunity to work with rapper Jay Z, whose track “$100 Bill” appeared in the film.

Throughout They Die By Dawn And Other Short Stories, Samuel’s smooth voice and mostly acoustic guitar riffs are a perfect match with the chill yet danceable beat that every track has. Each track also boasts deep, thought-provoking lyrics. Although “thought-provoking lyrics” doesn’t sound like it fits with “chill yet danceable,” The Bullitts make it work. Covering topics from murder to lost love, each track on the album is as good to chill and listen to by oneself as it would be as the soundtrack to a low key kickback with friends. Although if that’s the case, you may want to pull up YouTube and show everyone the videos that go along with each track in order to get the full effect of Samuel’s music. Whether you love interesting lyrics, catchy electronic hooks, or rap verses, or you’re just curious about what “action-adventure” music sounds like, They Die By Dawn And Other Short Stories is definitely worth checking out.

Frightened Rabbit – Late March, Death March EP review

If you are like me and have slowly gotten over Frightened Rabbit, with the thinking that they have pretty much peaked at this point and that they can’t possibly add anything new to the indie scene; then their Late March Death March EP will work as a good lure to draw you into their new album. Early on in their latest effort Pedestrian Verse, the drums along with the keys are dramatic and prominent while the guitars play more of a complimentary role.  However they eventually return to the sound that you are used to hearing from them which is guitar heavy and has Scott Hutchison almost crying lyrics into the mic.

As a side note, I am not sure why men in indie bands are so fascinated with crying while singing. This only works if you are Prince and if you are singing Purple Rain. After seeing that movie and seeing how hot Appalonia was, how can you not cry along with him? Well thankfully Hutchison isn’t quite as whiny on this EP.

It starts off with the title track Late March, Death March and once again the drums are prominent. It’s a catchy song that you will find yourself tapping your foot too but it’s one of the weaker tracks on the album especially since it features whistling. Hutchison begins singing about how his cursing in church shocks everyone and how that also stops the joyous handclaps of the congregation; I guess that’s better than calling yourself a black skinhead right Kanye? Well thankfully after this you move on to the acoustic Architect which is a collaboration they did with Atlanta’s Manchester Orchestra. It has decent guitars in it but musically it’s nothing special; the strong lyrics however to their best to save it.

I’m not normally down with alternate versions of rock songs however hip hop songs I’m ok with because typically it has a better beat and about 20 guest appearances by other rap artists. Rabbit’s alternate version of Late March sounds like it’s an 80’s cover. It’s like they went into the studio, popped the collar to their leather coats, threw on some face powder, and added in a little mascara before channeling their inner Simple Minds. The fact that they use electric drums and Hutchison’s voice isn’t as whiny as it is in the original, makes this version a little bit better than its predecessor. Now all its missing is a little Drake at the back end of it with P Diddy dancing in the video.’

The last two tracks are live versions of December’s Traditions and The Oil Slick. In December’s he sings about how depressing it is to lose the summer and the sun (obviously he doesn’t live in Texas) and wails “Ït’s not the answer treating cancer like a cold, what do you need from me” The ending is quite dramatic as well as it comes to an operatic climax both vocally and musically. Oil Slick is an odd track that tries to be a bit dancey at times but thankfully returns to a normal sounding Rabbit song by it’s end.  I think the live tracks properly capture the energy of their shows and lets you hear that they are clearly not just a studio band. Give this EP a listen and I am fairly certain that you will be back on board with Frightened Rabbit and with what they have to offer.

Smith Westerns – Soft Will album review

“Every day’s a blessing, every day’s a hangover,” coos Smith Westerns frontman Cullen Omori in the song “Idol.” The line is less poetic device and more literal commentary for a bunch of midwest prep-schoolers turned Indie-dears raised on beers, blunts, and video games. But the Smith Westerns’ languid lifestyle is afforded by their prodigiously keen ears which grasp musical concepts with chalkboard ease. Since Cullen enlisted classmate and guitarist Max Kakacek in 2007, roping in his younger brother Cameron Omori to play bass and drummer Hal James (later replaced by Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Julien Ehrlich), the band has forged a highly-progressive path from lyrical garage-rockers to a sort of theory-smart, next-gen Shins as the young Chicagoans grow in scope and popularity with each successive album. In early 2009, the band was the albumless opener for Nobunny, returning to the stage after their own set to play backup for the eccentric Tucsonite’s prancing theatrics. Their “janky” self-titled debut hit the market that Summer—the same week as junior bandmate Cameron’s high-school graduation—and the relative success of its Nuggets-inspired retro-rock and sweet but drowned-out choruses prompted Cullen to leave Northwestern to consolidate efforts with the band.

I don’t want to have crappy grades and be alright at writing music, I’d rather be good at both or be good at one.

All for the better. As the well-documented sophomore album pressure set in, Cullen looked to the Clash for inspiration on how to evolve their sound.

You listen to their first record and it’s almost unlistenable. Then you listen further down and it’s like, ‘Whoa – this is, like, straight-up, really, really poppy, catchy, well-crafted music. I like that.

Lucky for them, the success of their debut earned them an ample studio budget for their next record, Dye It Blonde, which with it’s cleaned up sound and dreamy balladry charmed a Best New Music badge out of Pitchfork and became the Smith Westerns’ pop mainstream break. Released on major indie label Fat Possum in 2011, Dye It Blonde drew upon the charisma of 90s Britpop stars Oasis and Suede (and by pedigree the Kinks and Beatles) and saw the band plugging their melodic instinct into stylishly ho-hum love songs (later justified as a veiled, “tongue-in-cheek…means to talk about other things”) and teenage anthems bathed in whimsical studio orchestration.

After nearly two years in the making, Soft Will captures a more nuanced portrait of the band, now in their twenties. The balance issues that still haunted Dye It Blonde were mostly purged from Soft Will, which shows off an impressively tight ensemble and sleek, finely-tuned songs. In “Idol,” for example, where the independent voices rhythmically align for quadripartite verses of introspective couplets. At times like these it’s as if Cullen is channelling James Mercer’s soaring tenor (“White Oath,” “Only Natural,” “Varsity”), only with less abstruse lyrics. As the Smith Westerns actively diverge from their former reputation as a girl-wooing party band, their subject matter has matured accordingly. Cameron observed: “We’ve become more and more confident in ourselves and we can share more now. When you are older, it’s a lot easier to be personal.” Soft Will deals with the experience of returning home, navigating an uncertain social backdrop where old friends are graduating from college, breaking up, or pursuing traditional careers, all the while trying to rediscover one’s own social niche. Indeed, sometimes words just can’t quite express it: the fully-instrumental “XXIII” takes an admirable stab at trance-inducing drama that Pink Floyd or the Flaming Lips have championed. Then there’s the brooding bass riff and lazy strumming in “Cheer Up,” which begs for its own titular advice, showcasing a band whose coming-of-age is intelligently expressed both in words and a visceral musical pathos.

Of course, there’s always room for improvement. The Hotel California riff that starts “Glossed” wanders above an awkward bass line and non-intuitive chord shifts. Other times the band relies too much on homophonic textures, resulting in dense harmonies that flatly deny the melodic pull (“Only Natural”). And “Best Friend” is an epic eye-roller. But the band has proven a capacity for steep and consistent musical progress that leaves one to wonder what their next album might sound like. When Alex White of White Mystery and Missile X Records waxed prophetic to the Chicago Reader in 2009, I doubt she envisioned the current fate of her pet band, who at the time was just beginning to raise eyebrows:

“From where [the Smith Westerns’ music] was two years ago to where it is now, you listen to it side by side and you can hear a lot of growth and development,” says White. “I think it’s great that they’re kinda growing into their skin.”