Saying that a band has matured is often a bland and obvious statement, especially when it’s a band like Smith Westerns, which released its self-titled debut in high school. But, on their third record, the observation is hard to avoid.
Soft Will doesn’t sound like the Cullen and Cameron Omori and Max Kakace taking themselves too seriously or striving for maturity. That would be a sad day for Smith Westerns. It just sounds like a youthful need to prove themselves has been replaced with the confidence of a band with two solid records behind it.
You can almost hear them exercising some restraint. When, after a quiet guitar-only intro, the drums come thumping in with a quick crescendo on “Only Natural,” they resist the urge to get loud and sloppy. It feels like they’re about to, almost like it should, but they stop at mid-volume and mid-tempo and save the biggest moments for a grand chorus. Then there’s “XXIII” — a wordless, piano-driven ballad, or the beautiful bells, gently tumbling drums and inviting opening riff of “3AM Spiritual.”
The instant pop appeal the Smith Westerns have always had is still strong. The simple and enjoyable hooks are surrounded by arrangements complex enough to hold your interest but not so abstract or cluttered as to be wearying.
Unsurprising as it might be to hear maturity on Soft Will, it’s satisfying and worth noting because Smith Westerns did it without getting boring or wandering too far off the map.