by Chris Familton
Smith Westerns still feel like newcomers pushing to assert themselves amongst a group of already established friends but they are now up to album number three, a fact that nullifies any flash in the pan claims for the band. On Soft Will they continue to mine the same vein of power pop and glam infused indie guitar pop but there is a noticeable progression to a smoother and more casually mature feel.
There are less of the superfuzz guitar explosions that characterised their last album Dye It Blonde which is a shame as they were one of the things that made the band so appealing. Instead they cast a soft focus on sugar coated vocals, sparkling guitars, synths and the occasional orchestral flourish. There are Beatles-esque melodies popping up all over the place but they are of the nod-of-the-hat variety rather than the grab and steal kind. They shade their 60s debt in colours from other decades too – the breezy end of Britpop and bands like The Charlatans can be heard in White Oath and Pink Floyd is a surprising reference point in the keyboards and guitars of XXIII. Foolproof is one of the album highlights where there sweetness of their sound best hits the spot without getting too sugar coated.
There are plenty of moments on Soft Will where songs drift by leaving shallow footprints if any trace at all. That is usually par for the course with this type of songs by the nature of their dreamy ‘niceness’. What saves the album from becoming a forgettable one is the clever, inquisitive arrangements and confidence the band exudes when dealing with established styles and a nostalgic sonic palette.
this review was first published in Drum Media and on The Music