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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

In Print: The Return of Cake, and Smith Westerns' Epic Power-Pop

Posted By on Wed, Feb 9, 2011 at 7:40 AM

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The Shelf Life of Cake: John McCrea and his band, Cake, have gone the distance, and more than a few times. Maybe more than he would have liked. McCrea is the declarative voice of a band that came of age at the pinnacle of alt-rock radio and more or less conquered a once-robust industry. Albums went platinum. iPod commercials were soundtracked. Multiple continents were toured. Those stats were the product of a brand of rock 'n' roll that was indifferent to the fads of radio-rock. The stats were also partially a product of being on Columbia Records.

Now, for the first time since their 1994 debut album, the members of Cake find themselves in a position where they must go the distance by themselves. They have joined the ranks of the humbling and sprawling independent music universe, where the pressure to perform comes from within, and record sales are rarely assigned an element on the periodic table. Cake's January release, Showroom of Compassion, is on the band's own Upbeat Records, and so far, sales are good. At the end of January, the album was No. 25 on the Billboard Top 200 chart.

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Defying Age with Smith Westerns: Pretty much the first thing anyone ever says about Smith Westerns is that the band members are young. We're gonna start there, too, but instead of the usual, "Can you believe these kids are 19 and 20 and they make massively melodic power-pop?" let's make something clear: Dye It Blonde, the Chicago four-piece's second album, sounds tremendous, period. It sounds youthful -- "Weekends are never fun unless you're around, too," yelps the chorus of the opening track -- but its sprightly exuberance serves mostly as a sweetener to pop-rock so shrewdly constructed and melodically ambitious that it's hard to believe these kids -- sorry, dudes -- picked up instruments only a few years ago. Perhaps 15-year-olds have written better hooks than those here, but certainly there are famous 50-year-old rockers who haven't. For Smith Westerns, age isn't a liability, it's an exclamation point.

Also, we recommend shows from Sic Alps, Meat Beat Manifesto, Corinne, and Karl Denson's Tiny Universe.

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Ian S. Port


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