Release Date: Jun 11, 2013
Record label: Polyvinyl
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Pop, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
After taking a detour into country rock on their previous album, Longtime Companion, Sonny & the Sunsets are back to making music that sounds like it was made in the early '60s, beamed out into space, and returned to earth 40 years later, sounding just a little weird and warped. The group's fourth album, Antenna to the Afterworld, is haunted by death but not morbid, with the songs' cheerful melodies and Sonny Smith's inherent weirdness keep things from getting too dark. Dealing with both the horrible murder of their friend Esme Barrera and Smith's psychic contact with another dead friend, the album dips into some deep emotions at times, as on the melancholy "Dark Corners" or the lovely, lo-fi doo wop ballad "Path of Orbit.
"I can't wait to find my little place in the real world," sings Sonny Smith on his latest album with the Sunsets, Antenna to the Afterworld. Smith is referring to new romance, but the line from the record's opening track, "Dark Corners," doubles as a manifesto for the San Francisco musician, who's spent the majority of his career dabbling in the past. While Smith an co.
The title Antenna to the Afterworld seems like an intentional bit of ambiguity from Sonny and the Sunsets. On one hand, the album plays up an extensive narrative about outer space and alien life, which is reinforced by the band's frequent use of synthesizers. In "Green Blood", Sonny Smith professes his love for an alien android, and maybe the antenna in question is pointing us to a distant planet.
A musical chameleon, Sonny Smith remains distinct in each of his guises, merely changing colors while retaining his unique shape. To say that Smith, a man who—among other musical adventures—wrote and recorded songs for 100 bands he conjured from the depths of his weird mind, has thus far swung from irreverent garage-pop to fractured country-western is to oversimplify the restless eclecticism in his records. Perhaps, at least with his last two records, it’s best to consider Smith’s stylistic shifts less as whims and more as fitting vehicles for the subject matter of his songwriting.
The spaced-themed concept album has always been considered something of a novelty, a transitional phase when artists are compelled to dramatize more practical stories placed in settings that are only imagined as existing in the unknown. Minding the larger-than-life grandee of Ziggy Stardust, creating such a far-flung journey can take two of the following approaches: either exploring interstellar drones with a seriousness that intersects with the isolation of space, or employing rock rebellion into trite plots with the makings of a stage musical. It’s a teetering balancing act that has repeated itself for almost half a century.
Sonny and The Sunsets leader Sonny Smith has worn dozens of different hats in his prolific music career, comfortably crafting tunes in the guise of a hundred different fictitious bands for a single project. Last year he put on a cowboy hat for the heartbroken alt-country set Longtime Companion, and the follow-up finds him donning a space helmet. Ostensibly a concept album about an alien invasion of earth, Antenna To The Afterworld explores the depths of mortality, more romantic troubles, and extreme otherness, all in a synth-drizzled garage pop package.