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Sonny and the Sunsets - Hit After Hit

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Artist: Sonny and the Sunsets

Album: Hit After Hit

Label: Fat Possum

Review date: May. 4, 2011

Bay Area artist and musician Sonny Smith designed a gallery exhibition last year called “100 Records,” where he concocted 100 fictitious bands, wrote a song for each one, and then had his friends design corresponding album covers. He “covers” at least two of them on Sonny and The Sunsets’ new album Hit After Hit, a title that could be construed as both self-deprecating and cocky. And indeed, while there are no official radio anthems here, the 11 garage-pop songs on Hit After Hit have such a low-key charm that, if history had played out a little differently, every song on it could have been a hit.

On the surface, this album is pretty modest in its ambitions. The first single, “I Wanna Do It,” is built around a couple of simple organ and guitar figures and an oft-repeated “oh yeah yeah” chorus. It’s catchy and pleasant, but it doesn’t seem to be striving for much more. “Pretend You Love Me,” the album’s final song, is fairly similar. It’s got a heavily reverb’d lead guitar part and some vocal harmonies on the chorus that invite the listener to sing along, but it’s fairly easy to label this a replica of late-’50s and early-’60s American pop.

After a few more times through Hit After hit, you begin to sense there’s something more to these songs. It may be a knock-off, but it’s an incredibly nuanced one. The finer details include Kelly Stoltz’s drumming in the introduction to “Home and Exile,” and the way the entire band navigates a couple of abrupt tempo changes in “Don’t Act Dumb.” Another song, the brief “Girls Beware,” has such an economical force to its guitar and bass interplay and its single instrumental break that you have to admire the precision with which it was put together. Finally, the instrumental “The Bad Energy From L.A. is Killing Me,” a nod to late-’60s psych, showcases a broader creative reach.

And even after obsessing over all of these minute quirks, Hit After Hit doesn’t lose the modest, infectious quality that initially draws you in, which might be its most impressive trick of all.

By Tom Zimpleman

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