REVIEW: Sonny & The Sunsets - "Longtime Companion"

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Sonny & The Sunsets
Longtime Companion
Release Date: June 26th, 2012
Label: Polyvinyl

In a world accelerated by tumblr obsessed, micro-love, where one hazy image of a woman and a desperate caption leads to Thought Catalogue articles and exaggerated  late-20’s regret, the idea of true romance and love seem lost to antiquity. On their third studio album, Sonny and the Sunsets tell a tell of unrequited love and hopeful futures. It’s not necessarily the subject matter that makes Longtime Companion so compelling, but the way in which songwriter and singer Sonny Smith goes about recounting his breakup, set to tone of folk-infused country music. 

And, possibly more importantly, it’s truly a paradigm shift for the band. The bouncing four piece drums, straight-laced bass and Smith’s acoustic guitar in tow, the band has transformed from a garage pop outfit to Sonny’s more personal mirror. At its core, Longtime Companion is revealing and honest, but even so, it doesn’t take knowing the story of his break up to understand the earnestness that Smith tells his story with. When he sings “I don’t know what I’m doing any more” on “Pretend You Love Me,” it’s hard not to feel immediately attached to his message. That feeling of disillusion and confusion that follows a breakup, not to mention after being with a partner for ten years, is directly on display. And that is what makes Smith’s music so appealing, his direct and honest nature. Previous albums have been light, sometimes bordering on comical, but have always approached life with a matter-of-fact nature, and on Longtime Companion that sometimes obvious voice helps console the listener and nearly break down the fourth wall between artist and fan. 

On “Year of the Cock,” one of the album’s standout tracks, Smith sings a tale of wild animals and their encounters. “She thought I was a rooster with the right kind of plumes, but I was only a chicken who had gone coo coo,” he notes on one verse, followed by the chorus in which he constantly compares himself to something smaller than a rooster. Maybe on some levels it’s immature, but Smith’s imagined animal friends are the perfectly irreverent match for his stories, fitting right in line with the absurdity of some of his previous work. 

For however desperate and lonely Smith becomes on some of the songs, for however nostalgic he becomes for experiences gone by, there’s a hopefulness and truthful celebration that happens throughout Longtime Companion. Perhaps none more fitting than the album's last track, a final message of sorts to cheer up our aging storyteller. “I’m going to try, to make you love me. I’m going to try, to make you care. I’m going to try, to make you stay,” Smith sings on the titular track. It’s a message that could easily be viewed as a giving up of sorts, but when the spry piano keys and whistling flutes chime in, the pallet shifts immediately from dark to light.

And this is precisely what Smith does so well throughout Longtime Companion, and what makes him one of music's more important voices. His ability to take themes and stories which, on the surface, are completely contrived and retell them in such a way that the listener has a way of interacting with them, transposing their own experiences, and ultimately viewing Smith as a friend rather than a sad misanthrope. It’s a brilliantly written record about love, not about breakup and lose. It’s a celebration of the nameless companion in the title, not a slander of the person who has gone. It is that kind of foresight and maturity which sets Sonny Smith apart as a songwriter, and what makes Longtime Companion such a distinctive record. 


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