Release Date: Mar 18, 2016
Record label: Sub Pop Records
When cult lo-fi rockers Smith Westerns split two years ago, not many people batted an eyelid. Probably because their fate had already been sealed thanks to a poorly received third album (2013's Soft Will), culminating in the band announcing an indefinite hiatus – which turned into a split – shortly after. So it's to their credit that several members of the band have re-emerged this year.
Cullen Omori was part of Smith Westerns, the indie band that has also spawned the high-pitched, wispy melancholy of Whitney. On his debut album, there’s a sense Omori is aiming for something more substantial than either. From opener No Big Deal onward, everything is bigger: the melodies are brazenly simple and, at times, reminiscent of Oasis; the horns provide a sense of grandeur ; and his lyrics talk confidently about various existential crises.
Coming of age is a funny little thing. It seems to be an endless road with turns of bad decisions, constant red lights standing in your way, and second long thrills of faster good rushes. Cullen Omori seemingly bypassed these in an intoxicating mix of being frontman of Chicago's indie rock darlings, the Smith Westerns, long stretch tours and bus parties.
Cullen Omori was just 17 years old when he co-founded the Smith Westerns, and for good or ill the experience was a major part of his early adulthood. After the Smith Westerns broke up in 2014, Omori appears to have made a conscious effort to separate himself from the band's punk-meets-glam attack. On his solo debut, 2016's New Misery, Omori has embraced an evocative and graceful brand of pop music that's informed by youth and experience at once.
Before he was old enough to drink, Cullen Omori was already responsible for some of the most irresistible glam rock this side of glitter paradise. Well, partly responsible, anyway. As the frontman of Smith Westerns, Omori's vocal parts glistened along with the lead guitar work of Max Kakacek, who was the other major creative force of the Chicago group during its quick ascent over the hearts (though less so the minds) of a substantial fan base.
Ask any hardcore fan of The Band who their favorite member was, and it most likely won’t be Robbie Robertson. He was supposedly the asshole who didn’t want to split up the songwriting royalties. He was supposedly the asshole who came off as the most self-important in The Last Waltz. He was supposedly the asshole who went Hollywood.
Do all good things really have to come to an end? Well, just ask 25-year-old Cullen Omori, who unexpectedly found himself plummeted into The Real World in 2014 after the break-up of his successful high-school band, Smith Westerns. The Real World is a pretty scary place, but even more so for a skinny indie kid who shunned qualifications in order to spend his formative years living the naïve rockstar’s dream of recording albums and sleeping on a countless amount of uncomfortable sofas along the way. It wasn’t long before Omori found himself stuck with a ‘proper’ job (of sorts), though - he ended up cleaning stretchers and wheelchairs at a medical supply company after the band’s break-up.
For two months during the making of ‘New Misery’, Cullen Omori worked at a hospital wiping dried blood off stretchers. His messy part time job dovetailed with his songs, written by picking at the wounds resulting from the December 2014 split of his old band, cult Chicago trio Smith Westerns. The 25-year-old’s solo debut was conceived at a confusing time: Cullen, who’d been touring since quitting school in 2009, had to adjust to life without a band.