For those that don’t know who Sonny Smith is, where do I begin to describe him? His music career stretches back to 2000 and features 10 albums that pluck from so many sonic influences, it’s easiest to just call it ‘indie’. His lyrics are as hazy too, drawing from things like nightmares, paranormal experiences, and one-act plays. There’s not enough space here to dive too deep into it, but know that his is an interesting mind to follow.
With his 11th album, the Merrill Garbus (Tune-Yards) produced, beachy and neon-drenched Moods Baby Moods, Sonny alienates himself from the ‘modern age’ and the way people use technology and “synthetic feelings” to distance themselves from contemporary issues like civil rights abuse and climate change. It sounds preachy, but it’s anything but. Its dark themes are masked with unusually fun, vibrant production that pulls heavily (and often mockingly) from ‘80s funk, pop, and synthwave. Like the barrage of media it deals with, Moods Baby Moods barrages the listener with so many ecstatic genres that, when combined with Sonny’s own tired and emotionless voice (think Ian Curtis of Joy Division), it often creates this uncanny Frankenstein-feeling. And maybe that’s what Sonny is trying to do—make us feel uncomfortable.
And that’s where I draw the most issues with the album: as tightly produced and interesting as it sounds, the things Sonny says aren’t new ideas and add little to any conversations, which is disappointing for someone as interesting as him. Songs like “White Cop on Trial” go out of their way to instigate the listener, but there’s no substantial reward. Put a song like that next to another track, “Well But Strangely Hung Man” and it feels like Sonny is just disinterested and so alienated from the modern age, it makes you wonder why he tackled the subject at all. As he sings in “My Little Death”:
“You may think I’m stupid / you may think I’m dumb / But ever since my little death / I can see what is what.” He won’t have the same effect on every listener, but I just felt like he was alienating himself as far from me as he was from the contemporary themes he so cynically paints.
It should be stated again: Sonny is a great songwriter, and each of the 12 tracks here are well-constructed, creative, and able to stand out from each other. The album does slow down in its second half, but it’s always able to hold the listener’s attention. I just wish it’d do something more with that attention—there’s little lasting reward here. Moods Baby Moods is as confused, absurd, and aimless as the modern age it satirizes. Maybe that was Sonny’s purpose, but if so, the idea of the project is more engaging and discussion-worthy than the execution. Still, Sonny & The Sunsets are a fascinating band to delve into, and I’d recommend everyone listen to this album to form their own perspectives.
Reviewed by Matthew Wardell