Smith Westerns: Soft Will (Mom + Pop)

The "soft" in Soft Will signals its mood (just as Smith Westerns' sophomore title, Dye It Blonde, connoted that album's Garnier Nutrisse-style light scuzziness). This is indeed a downy record, each song blown in a light zephyr. There's little of the band's former glamminess on "Glossed," a sugary slice of dream pop that seemingly wants only to be pretty. Album closer "Varsity" turns squeaks of video-game chiptune into a choral refrain—this is Cocteau Twins by way of Galaga, or Todd Rundgren by way of Dig Dug. "Fool Proof" delivers simple, angelic guitar pop that almost feels beamed in from the post-WWII radio charts. In fact, the sounds of 1950s doo-wop recur on the album, from "Fool Proof" to the Del-Vikings strut of "Cheer Up."

Mostly, Soft Will succeeds as a confection that winds up being more filling than it has any right to be. This guitar-noodling approach to whimsy and lightness can be quite winning (though it can also be a bit boring, as on the underwhelming "White Oath," with its Church of Rock 'n' Roll-style guitar solos). But this is a friendly album that is mostly good company, from the literally amiable "Best Friend" to the album's opening song, "3am Spiritual." It begins with the lines "It's easier to think you're dumb/ think you're no fun," almost as if the band is talking about the album itself, reminding us that airheaded can be delightful, and sparkly is sometimes better than grungy.

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