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SONNY & THE SUNSETSIt takes a special person to deal with a breakup gracefully, and fortunately, Sonny Smith demonstrates just how to do that on the new Sonny & the Sunsets album “Longtime Companion (Polyvinyl).” It’s garnering lots of attention for its musical style—solid country, a pretty big departure from the group’s quirky pop repertoire. Old time music or not, you’ll still find the indelible qualities that make Sonny & the Sunsets so beloved to their fans. It’s earnest, but not overly mushy. Moments of kooky humor sneak up here and there; It’s about second chances and glimmers of hope.
The album’s single is a new version of “Pretend You Love Me” from the “Hit After Hit” LP. It’s slower and stripped down, lonesome-sounding, even with its scattered bursts of slide guitar and flute. This rendition perfectly suits the lyrics, which were already wistful to begin with. The video for the song, which features Smith wandering around the Mission, is like a valentine to not only the neighborhood, but to the everyday people who forge ahead with their day, even while harboring feelings of confusion and loss.
It makes sense that Smith would turn to a project during a difficult time. He’s not only one of San Francisco's most prolific musicians, but also dabbles in other artistic ventures, including playwriting, screenwriting, and acting. His relentless creativity quite impressive. In the past few years, he’s been the driving force behind the ambitious 100 Records project. After thinking up 100 fictional bands and their respective songs, Smith recruited artists to create original album artwork to accompany each single. With the help of various friends, including Kelley Stoltz, Ty Segall, and The Sandwitches, he then proceeded to record unique songs for each band. 100 Records culminated in an impressive gallery show that featured all the original artwork and a jukebox that played the tunes. The music is currently available on three volumes from Polyvinyl.
Any change, whether foreseen or unexpected, brings on a new perspective. You can stubbornly stick to the past, or use it as a catalyst for growth. Smith knows this well. It's this understanding, and his affable sense of humor, that makes his art so damn good. There's no telling what inspiration will strike him next, but it's sure to be a surprise that's well worth the wait. KAREN CHOY
Magic Trick is one of the loveliest bands you’ll hear, and also one of the most fascinating. Originally the sole work of Tim Cohen (Fresh & Onlys), Magic Trick became a band when Alicia Vanden Heuval (Aislers Set), James Kim, and Noelle Cahill joined ranks. Their eclectic songwriting doesn’t tie them to any particular genre—there are epic Godz-like jams, rhythmic hip hop and world tracks, and dreamy baroque pop ballads that recall Lee Hazelwood, the Essex Green, and the Ladybug Transistor. Stream-of-conscious lyrics invoke striking visuals and the group’s boundless capacity for gorgeous vocals and harmonizing is extremely impressive. KAREN CHOY
COOL GHOULSNot many bands can boast that they started off 2013 playing a show in the Sutro Baths cave, but Cool Ghouls did, so they pretty much rule. Their songs sound like classic '60s rock ‘n’ roll and Motown, played with a youthful enthusiasm that's fueled by West Coast sunshine, green leaves, and good vibes. The San Francisco group recorded with Tim Cohen last year, and they’ve been steadily rocking the clubs and caves, supporting bands like Shannon and the Clams, Night Beats, and the Mallard. As George Clinton would say, “These cool ghouls are alright!” KAREN CHOY
Imagine if Cheech & Chong or Wayne & Garth decided to make wildly upbeat 2 minute powerpop songs about getting baked on sunny beaches. It’s high time that happened...presenting Dune Rats! Hailing from Brisbane, Australia, this duo is making their San Francisco debut at Noise Pop, having shared bills with Best Coast, Ariel Pink, and the Black Keys back home. Sing-along songs like “Pogo” and “Colour Television” are ridiculously catchy and carefree. Fans of the Clean, Dead Milkmen, and the Violent Femmes will be particularly pleased. Guaranteed heaps of fun! KAREN CHOY