The collected works of Sonny Smith are a serialized adventure, not a traditional rock discography, so each new album warrants a quick recap. When last we heard from this multi-talented San Francisco weirdnik, on the final track of 2013’s Antenna To The World, he was down in the dumps after a love triangle involving an android and her cyborg husband. At least Smith got to visit space, where cosmic rays gave his scraggily garage rock a groovy synth-pop glow.
Before playing spaceman, Smith donned a cowboy hat for 2012’s Longtime Companion, an album of old-school country tunes. This latest episode is neither a sci-fi sequel nor another Western—it’s actually 10 mini-episodes, each tracking a story that began life as a film script. Smith ultimately decided these vignettes would work best as songs, so he scrapped his movie project, picked up a guitar and some analog synths, and enlisted some friends (Kelley Stoltz, Fresh & Onlys member Shayde Sartin, and so on) to serve as this year’s Sunsets. The cinematic versions of these tales would’ve flipped some wigs, but even as super-smiley psych-pop teasers, tunes like “The Secluded Estate” and “Alice Leaves For The Mountains” are pocket universes worth getting lost in.
On the seven-minute “Happy Carrot Health Food Store,” Smith uses far-out fuzz guitar, handclaps, and vintage keyboards to tell the story of some hippie grocers looking for love and the meaning of life. Wayne in produce apparently has all the answers, so maybe he can explain why Smith breaks the fourth wall near the end of the song and chats from his director’s chair with a barking dog swimming in his glass of beer.
That doggy cameo is Smith at his most cutesy and precious; usually, he’s lighter with the absurdist touches but every bit as sweet. On “Cheap Extensions”—essentially Joe Jackson’s jazzy New Wave fave “Steppin’ Out” fried up with a side of kraut—Smith assures a girl with fake hair that his love is real. On the frilly, pastoral “Icelene’s Loss,” he slips on a paisley bowling shirt and roots hard for a professional roller facing more than just pins.
Does Icelene get her mojo back? Does the dude in “The Application” get to become a genuine human being, since he and his band of Beach Boys-esque harmonizers ask so nicely? And what of those conspirators in “Secret Plot,” a hard-edged guitar song with dainty string, acoustic-guitar, and piano flourishes? Don’t count on Sonny for the answers. Better ask Wayne in produce.