The Sunsets Score “Hit after Hit”
Imagine San Francisco on one of those days right after the fog seems to melt away from the sky. The bay sparkles, and even Alcatraz seems like a place of light and warmth. Everywhere, from the Embarcadero to North Beach, from Sunset to the Presidio, from Daly City to the Golden Gate, the City throws back its coat of perpetual chill and basks in a translucent golden curtain, a land of milky clouds and honeyed air.
Sonny and the Sunsets’ sophomore album “Hit After Hit,” released on April 12 off of Fat Possum Records, embraces this aesthetic, floating above the chilly hills of San Francisco on an ecstatic rush of warming air.
The past two years have seen front man Sonny Smith riding a similar wave and achieving almost manic productivity. First came the album “Tonight Is Alright,” followed by his “100 Records” art exhibit for which Smith wrote 200 songs for 100 fictitious bands and enlisted 100 different artists to create the cover artwork for the albums — that’s 100 A- and B-sides recorded on some slick vinyl. The exhibit debuted in April 2010 for a seven-week run at San Francisco’s Gallery 16. Pile that on top of touring with bands such as Hunx and His Punx and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and it’s a miracle that Smith found the drive to record “Hit After Hit” at all.
The album features 11 rollicking tracks that seem tailor-made for cruising down PCH with the top — or at the very least windows — down and air whooshing by, accompanied by the throaty bellow of a 427 Chevy Big Block.
Yet Smith’s songwriting never seems contrived, careless or even uninspired. It is carefree, easygoing, uncomplicated and lacks any of the worst elements of this type of surfy indie-pop. With songs full of short 3-seconds-or-less guitar solos, “oooooo-oooo-waaa-ooo,” backing vocals and strategically repetitive lyrics, each track embeds itself in the mind, catchy but not cutesy.
“Hit After Hit” comes to a climax on track six, “The Bad Energy From LA Is Killing Me.” This instrumental track calls to mind both The Velvet Underground and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club with a droning, stormy riff running its length. The drums beat along in the background with the rhythm of tires rolling down a highway and guitars interjecting with jabbing lightning lines.
However, Smith’s most compelling song, “Girls Beware,” comes just before, with a vocal timbre sounding freakishly like Lou Reed circa “The Velvet Underground & Nico.”
“I’m feeling ready, alright dear / My arms are burning branches / I’m feeling extra tough / Like I could eat you up … I’ve got love to spare … Girls love me everywhere, everywhere / I’ve got the devil in me … Girls beware, girls beware / Girls, don’t despair, cuz soon I’ll be there,” Smith sings.
“Girls Beware” combines all the best features of Smith’s songwriting — simple tongue-in-check lyrics and instrumentation that draws as much from oldies as from modern indie surf-pop. The jangly, arppegiated guitar riffs and straightforward drum beat even call to mind the early genius of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys.
And that’s the genius of this album. “Hit After Hit” remains lush in its simplicity. Though Smith draws clear inspiration from sources as varied as The Beach Boys and the Velvet Underground, he never gets caught up in creating a certain aesthetic.
This sense of freedom seems to bleed from the music and out into the air. It is as much joy about the music as the joy of a city. “Hit After Hit,” more than anything else, is a love affair with San Francisco and its constantly changing light. The fog rolls in and out, making everybody play peak-a-boo with the sun, enticing a siren song in light and shadow that is reflected in all the city’s art and literature.
A sense of constant change of a city in flux and floating in the clouds combines with the freedom and novelty permeates each track on this album from its opening track, “She Plays Yo Yo With My Mind.”
“When I see you, sun starts to shine,” he sings. “It’s me and you all the time. Yes is no and no is yes to you girl … Ooohhhh, yo yo with my mind. One, two, four, three how you count the time.”
Rating: 4.5.5 Stars