Death? Afterworld? Android lovers dying in the streets bleeding green blood? Homeless girls? Dogs stranded here from other planets? What are Sonny & The Sunsets getting at on Antenna to the Afterworld, a fast-moving record of new wave synths and post punk beats?
The murder of a close friend of the band led Smith to think a lot about death and life after death. Shortly after, a visit to a psychic/medium brought Smith into contact with another friend who had died.
This encounter with the afterworld inspired many of the lyrics on Sonny & the Sunsets' new record. And what a strangely entertaining odyssey it turned out to be.
As a writer -- of songs, or plays, or short stories -- Smith has never limited himself to one style or theme. The restless trend of changing gears dramatically continues on Antenna to the Afterworld, which marks a total musical and narrative shift from last year’s Longtime Companion (a country record that chronicled Smith’s break up).
On Antenna to the Afterworld, Smith likens himself to a space being visiting Earth using wry humor, gritty poetry, and a myriad of musical lenses fleshed out by drummer Kelley Stoltz's Joy Division-like beats, Ryan Browne's new wavish basslines, and Tahlia Harbour's deadpan vocals.
"I come from the planet of dogs / ... / And I walk on your streets / ... / and I can't wait to find / My little place in your weird world," Smith sings on opening track "Dark Corners," as the song's use of synthesizers lends the perfect sonic counterpart to the science fiction narrative.
His journey continues on “Mutilator,” where he enchants the listener with a vivid description of the titular woman’s lair: “Back at her place, a half eaten steak on a plate / And an old melon rind and some torn up drapes / And on her bed of nails she makes me lie / … / Mutilator, you send shivers down my spine.”
Later, “Girl on the Streets” proves to be one of the most immediate and infectious songs found on Antenna to the Afterworld, as Smith pairs an upbeat, major key melody with a candid depiction of a homeless girl he observes while walking the streets of his native San Francisco.
And it wouldn’t be a Sonny Smith-penned album without a reworking of a previously released song. Just like “Pretend You Love Me” was transformed from a 50s doo-wop revamp (Hit After Hit) to a Dylan-esque country ballad (Longtime Companion), on Antenna to the Afterworld Smith sheds the ramshackle country rock skin “I See The Void” wore on Longtime Companion and replaces it with a raucous high energy romp through classic Sunsets territory.
Soon after, the record closes with "Green Blood," a quasi-spoken word track that uses male-female call and response vocals to tell the tale of Sonny's affair with a spaceling. Though their love is ultimately doomed by their differences (and her cyborg husband), Sonny can't quite let her go.
"My antennas went deep into the afterworld / And I searched for her / Where the night is quiet / With star gleams / And comet trails," he narrates -- a beautifully composed conclusion to an (inter)stellar tale.
Antenna to the Afterworld may have all the dressings of science fiction and fantasy, but like many great works in those genres, it's a strong, emotive character study. He might've replaced the cowboy hat with a spaceman's helmet, but Sonny Smith still writes like a country balladeer.
Both musically and lyrically, the album presents some of the Sunsets' best work yet.
Antenna to the Afterworld turns out to be the best kind of pop album: it sounds great and it's full of catchy songs, but it has just enough deeper meaning and emotional depth to keep it from blowing away in a light breeze.
A musical chameleon, Sonny Smith remains distinct in each of his guises, merely changing colors while retaining his unique shape.
Sonny Smith's endlessly prolific San Francisco psych-pop band Sonny & The Sunsets crank out loopy, fun, lo-fi tunes at scary rates.
Get ready to sway for five minutes straight, as Sonny & Co. dexterously suck you into what is sure to be one wild ride this summer. We 'can't wait to find my little place in your weird world' too, Sonny & The Sunsets
I adore this song, and the video makes me love it all the more. 'Green Blood is from Sonny & The Sunsets' new album, Antenna to the Afterworld. It's a record filled with cinematic tales, told simply with guitars, bass and drums. And none of those tales are told as endearingly as they are in this song and video about love on a distant planet.
Consequence of Sound
Sonny & 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.
The murder of a friend and a subsequent visit to a psychic inspired the lyrics on the new album which Sonny imagines himself as a visitor from another planet. We all feel like an alien sometimes. The somewhat fantastical lyrics then inspired the new musical direction.
In an epic ploy to get us to think about death without really thinking about it, Sonny & The Sunsets pose us with existential questions that no one can really answer, all while we bop our heads to the tune.
1dark corners (5:04)
4path of orbit (4:03)
5natural acts (3:21)
6girl on the street (3:32)
7death scene (1:16)
10earth girl (2:13)
11green blood (4:21)