Sunday, 21 July 2013

Music Catch-up - Smith Westerns and Leagues

Now is the chance to catch-up on some new music from the last few months...

Chicago's Smith Westerns released their third album last month, Soft Will; a much more adventurous collection of shimmering sun-kissed pop songs than the band's previous albums with wonderful understated melodies, vocal harmonies and big guitars. They have stepped up to the next level in a promising and emerging career in fantastic style. 3am Spiritual is a downbeat self-referential opener with gorgeous choral vocals, echoes of Flaming Lips and swathes of guitars. Idol and Glossed provide the early pop-tinged mood before the stirring piano-led instrumental XXIII brings four and half minutes of class. The Brit-pop influences arrive with Fool Proof and the big 'ballad' White Oath, washed with smooth guitar work and  vocals from Cullen Omori. Vocally, Only Natural is triumphant, diving from low verses to high soaring chorus, while the guitars shine. Credit has to go to Chris Coady for production and maintaining a good balance between Smith Westerns' gritty 'garage' sound and this new polished sound - it's not as thick and oppressive as Beach House, for good reason. The second half of Soft Will is certainly more serious and reflective than the first, as Best Friend tugs the heartstrings, before the oddly pitched Cheer Up brings closer Varsity and a final highlight. Soft Will is the sound of Smith Westerns not so much growing up, but coming of age.

One from the start of the year that somehow slipped through...

The Pledge Music campaign is delivering some real gems (as well as less-interesting projects from more established bands trying to give 'fans' a chance to get their hands on exclusive material) and You Belong Here by Leagues yields another success. Comprising Thad Cockrell, Tyler Burkum and Jeremy Luito, the trio has added to their début EP and produced an album of punchy, upbeat pop songs. Opener Spotlight is a great introduction with Cockrell's post-funk vocals driving the song forward. The title track draws distinct similarities to Vampire Weekend before the wistful Haunted deftly blends stirring emotion with pop stylings and cool guitar work. The big highlight of the first half is wonderfully emotive Lost It All, with Cockrell providing an outstanding vocal range. This is mirrored in the second half by a completely different, yet equally engaging, sound, as the guitar/drum stomp of Magic...quickly followed by another instant hit: Mind Games with its delicious chorus. You Belong Here never capitalises on this momentum as the final duo are oddly downbeat - Pass My Way is sunny-day vocally-textured musing while Friendly Fire is a fragile piano/vocal ballad with Cockrell stretching the metaphor and his voice in equal measure. But ultimately You Belong Here is a good idea, helped by fans and for fans. Only they will know if it has met their expectations.

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