Soft Will

Soft Will

Though Chicago's Smith Westerns continue to expand their sound far away from their lo-fi beginnings, they haven't lost the wistful longing that makes their music such a serious headgame. Layers of instrumentation add some high-class psychedelia to the final instrumental pieces of "XXIII," which starts like The Beach Boys gone sadcore before the final Pink Floyd–like grandstand, all in four and a half minutes. Producer Chris Coady (Beach House, Wavves) keeps the soft-focus lens on the group, giving such powerful pop exercises as "Fool Proof" and "Best Friend" an endearing sense of mystery that requires dozens of replays to fully appreciate the depths of emotion and harmonic weaving. "White Oath" shows a touch of John Lennon–to–Oasis balladry in its soothing early-morning gait. "Cheer Up" takes everyone back to the sockhop for a last dance before "Varsity" sends us on our way with another nostalgic look back to a past that few have had but many wish could be their own.

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