Sonny and the Sunsets
Tomorrow Is Alright
Soft Abuse

Home Blitz
Out of Phase

While I’m not entirely sure what it is that makes Tomorrow Is Alright and Out of Phase kindred albums, there’s certainly something under the surface that has linked these two of late. Despite whichever Bay Area luminaries (Tim Cohen and Shayde Sartin of the Fresh and Onlys, John Dwyer, Kelly Stoltz) play with Sonny Smith as the Sunsets or the whomever is recruited by Daniel DiMaggio to accent Home Blitz, these are very personal records, both composed by very distinct personalities, belying any direct associations to the scenes with which they are a part. And despite the expressiveness evoked part and parcel in the voices and structures of these records, like their covers, it’s all black and white (gray doesn’t exist). Maybe it’s the way each songwriter has indirectly become attached artistically to their respective coastlines— DiMaggio to the east and Smith to the west. Listening to each consecutively, they couldn’t be more different. Still, there’s something instinctive in each that elicits the same warm fuzzies.

On the surface, Sonny and the Sunset’s Tomorrow Is Alright is wholly inoffensive. A cursory listen would amount to chalking it up as Everly Brothers inspired beach-pop. I wasn’t exactly underwhelmed, but I also wasn’t dribbling out the same superlatives I’d read about the band previously. I was, however, digging the effortless simplicity that sets the mind at ease by the second song. “Death Cream” is an aural relaxant, cushioning the mellow, but never getting too soft. These are ingredients perfect for front porch saloon blues—if you could fit the baby grand out there. By song three, “Strange Love,” you’re set afloat in a permanent reverb, not too far removed from late period Lennon, using the studio as his own personal beanbag chair. The real reward of Tomorrow Is Alright is that this isn’t just a batch of half-baked slacker madrigals. Smith is a storyteller, best displayed on “Stranded” or the shadowed doo-wop of “Chapters,” and his tale (though there’s no arching concept) feels like what might have occurred had the Manson family made good and pulled through the harsh reality to believe in the religion of surf. The Sunsets do their best to shake the “Bad Vibes and Evil Thoughts” constantly following them, and Sonny, with a confidence in his voice that has aided the best tribe leaders, knows how to steer the ship towards optimism, even when the commune senses darkness. In the end, though, it’s a love of leisurely campfire jams that wins out, because regardless of a underbelly of soft bomb doom, the casual “yeahs” and handclaps on finale “Lovin’ an Older Gal” define Tomorrow Is Alright and Sonny Smith’s ragged and sand-crusted folk.

While Smith breathes in the salty air and preaches a bit of tuning out, Daniel DiMaggio’s mission seems to push on, almost anarchistic in nature, rallying his troops (which may just be his lonesome) against the pressures and inconsistencies of urban living. Instead of the undulating inertia of Sonny and the Sunsets, Home Blitz acts on the verb. Out of Phase is frantic, messy, cathartic, urgent and frugal all at once. It’s the opposite end of Smith’s calm, but nonetheless composed of catchy barbs, often times twined multiple times in the same song. The two obviously share a love of Jonathan Richman and Jad Fair, though each has headed in different directions. DiMaggio is equally as catchy, only “Other Side of the Street” is fuzz-caked, packed tightly underneath with quixotic twin-lead guitar solos. “World War III” is built on a classic rock chug and then hotwired with power-pop and the efficacy of hardcore. Home Blitz present the arena, deconstruct it brick by brick, and fit it into a box that will furnish a dorm room. Those skills let DiMaggio balance the tumult with his sensitive side, making “A Different Touch” a brash and swaggering T. Rex anthem spiked with cough-syrup and white noise histrionics. Be it snotty ’77 punk or a Shoes record cut with Prozac, it stands up to any of the explorations recently taken by Jay Reatard. My only explanation for the long pause and mostly silent field recordings is for the listener to catch one’s breath. Out of Phase seems to constantly get away from society, while Tomorrow Is Alright has already found seclusion and now wants some company. Somehow it’s all connected.
Kevin J. Elliott