April 3, 2011

Review: Sonny & The Sunsets :: Hit After Hit

Hit After Hit may not have a classic once-in-a-generation caliber single like Tomorrow Is Alright's "Too Young To Burn," but the second full-length from Sonny and The Sunsets is a remarkably executed affair that registers as this group's strongest statement to date: A magnum opus of playful, whip-smart and vintage minimalism of 50s and 60s-inspired California pop sunshine.

The guitar riffs, vocal harmonies and grooves all harken back to images of a twisting and hip-shaking, bob cut, milkshake drive-in drinking youth that's been famously cemented in films like American Graffiti, Beach Party and later re-stylized in Pulp Fiction. But as openly derivative as Sonny Smith's musical diction is, the songwriting here never once comes across as a copy or inauthentic. On the contrary, Smith's voice is one of the most refreshing and original in contemporary pop music. When I listen to songs like "She Plays Yoyo With My Mind" or "Don't Act Dumb" (which employs the lyrics: "Saw you for across the room, talking to some dude / Saw you leave with him, thought you might be dumb too / Girl, don't act dumb"), I honestly don't know whether to barrel over laughing, applaud, or dance and sing-along (the answer is usually a combination).

Smith, a playwright and prolific songwriter (see his 100 Records project), has a knack for casual and conversational storytelling, turning simplistic phrases like "I Wanna Do It" and "Girls Beware" into dynamic and fully-formed works of, yes, art. The proven wordsmith also demonstrates himself a master of tone on wordless and instrumental tracks like "The Bad Energy From LA Is Killing Me" and "Acres of Lust." Aided by the songs' straightforward titles and his capable trio of Sunsets—the great Kelley Stolz, Ryan Browne and Tahlia Harbour—the songs are brilliantly fleshed out, effectively capturing the moods of a smog and traffic-ridden city with a humming dark psychedelia and the aforementioned sea of "lust" with a manic and celebratory march of excitement.

Who knows what's next for Smith, who's sporadically released roughly 11 different collections of music on 8 different labels since 2002, but he may have just finally found a permanent home at Oxford, Mississippi's Fat Possum. One thing though is for sure: if Sonny and The Sunsets continue to put out albums as fantastically timeless as Hit After Hit, we'll keeping buying them.

Sonny and The Sunsets - "I Wanna Do It" (from Hit After Hit)

Sonny and the Sunsets - "Mr. Lucky" (from I Wanna Do It 7")


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