Monday, July 15, 2013

New Sonny & The Sunsets, Field Medic

Antenna To The Afterworld
* * * *

Sonny & the Sunsets’ last record, Longtime Companion, was the sort of ill-advised country experiment that is normally seen no less than 20 albums into an artist’s oeuvre.  The 41-year-old Sonny Smith is already a veteran, making the album even more worrying.  It’s a relief to find that the sci-fi-flavored Antenna to the Afterworld is not only on par with the rest of Smith’s oeuvre but actually improves on it--it’s not a stretch to call it his best record yet.   The influences here are from ‘50s and ‘60s pop, but the crude synths and references to aliens and space travel put it aesthetically in line with Cold War-era science fiction; it’s not unlikely that people in the Sixties hearing a synthesizer for the first time imagined the future of music to sound like this.  The cheap synth textures give the entire album a damaged, nostalgic vibe similar to chillwave, but it is often killed by the too-humorous-for-its-own-good “narration” by Smith and vocalist Tahlia Harbour.  (“Green Blood,” a song about a romantic encounter with an alien gone outlandishly wrong, is a great pop tune tarnished by an incredibly distracting “conversation” between the two.)  But despite some minor flaws in the album’s execution, Antenna to the Afterworld is a monumental leap for an established band that so recently seemed on the verge of stagnation.

Crushed Pennies EP
* * * 1/2

Kevin Sullivan’s always seemed more a frontman than a singer/songwriter (in the post-Dylan sense), but Crushed Pennies, his new EP as Field Medic, finds the focus purely on his use of the English language.  The album’s first half is much weaker than the second, with Sullivan’s unwieldy use of prosody and rootsy-cutesy metaphors dragging the songs down.  The second half, on the other hand, contains three of the best songs Sullivan’s ever written.  “Wooden Chest” flips the woman-as-various-cute-inanimate objects metaphor to convey longing and vulnerability, while the brief “Cobweb Skirt” is an intimate hospital prayer.  Most impressive of all is the second verse of “Broken Part,” which flirts with Brian Wilson-esque imagery.  Though Crushed Pennies isn’t a strong case for Sullivan as an urgent voice capable of taking his wordsmithery beyond the band format, its best moments show that he’s lost none of the penchant for provocative, evocative imagery that made his earlier recordings with Westwood & Willow and Rin Tin Tiger so fascinating and listenable.

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