March 5, 2013

You could never say that being a “buzz band” is a tough life, but there’s a certain degree of calculation that must creep into the mind of any group lucky enough to strike it big early in their careers. They’ve got to keep building and building upon whatever glowing reviews and festival slots they’ve received, with no allotment for inconsistency allowed—the new album has to be better than the last, because they haven’t had enough time to really sink into the hearts and minds of a fickle blogosphere that all too often forgets the groups it’s championed. (See: Black Kids, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Art Brut, literally anyone.) I’ve been thinking about that this morning while listening to “Varsity,” the new song by Smith Westerns—the young Chicago band that got a ton of attention for striking buzz gold while still in high school, but didn’t parlay a strong critical reception for their sophomore album into expansive mainstream success. Which, of course, isn’t always the point—expansive mainstream success—but at some point, any artistic life has to turn into a financially viable one if it wants to continue as a primary path, especially if college degrees have been skipped in the process.

That doesn’t mean you should support them or any young band in that position, because those are all choices and decisions made while choosing to play music—as any number of aging musicians, many of whom have never had the luck to get a nice word in Rolling Stone, will tell you. But it’s a very nice song, further traipsing along the path of outward rock pastiche and youthful fatalism they worked so well on their first two albums. This should do well, shouldn’t it? It’ll appear on their third album, Soft Will, which comes out on June 11; a tour is sure to follow.

Follow Jeremy on Twitter at @jeremypgordon

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