Moods Baby Moods is a bizarre album, and purposefully so.
Six albums in, it’s difficult to categorize Sonny & the Sunsets’ sound. It’s unmistakably Sonny Smith’s unique blend of irreverent humor, folk and dream pop, but it seems to change as quickly as he moves from one project to another. On previous albums, Smith honed sunny acoustics and a proto-garage lo-fi style, but Moods Baby Moods plays like the culmination of his bizarre and playful psychedelic pop. The latest sonic addition is funk guitar and DIY electronics, the latter likely courtesy of tUnE-yArDs producer Merrill Garbus. While the album lives up to its title, it is nevertheless a solid 40 minutes of fun-loving funk pop.
If the album is all about capturing moods, the prevailing one is wry and downright weird. Just look at the title of the opening track: “Death Cream part 2 (Watch Out for the Cream).” Now, odd song titles are nothing new for Sonny & the Sunsets, but the lyrics and arrangements themselves maintain this nonsensical approach. “Moods” is a great example of the latter with its bevy of bizarre electronic sounds and 8-bit blips that accompany a funk guitar line. “Modern Age” goes one further, opening on a dope bass line and ending with a trippy exchange between a man having an existential crisis, an alien who cries, “Even on our planet, we don’t have anything as fucked up as that!,” and a booming voice that proclaims, “There is one thing I do know, son, and that is you are here for a reason.”
But there is a distracting dichotomy at work on certain songs. Nowhere do the arrangements temper their whimsy, but Smith’s subject matter does occasionally stray into something more serious. On “Modern Age,” the lyrics are overtly critical of the kind of flaky nature inherent in postmodern art: “I found a piece of art in the trash/ I don’t know anything about art/ A shattered mirror with a broken frame/ Autographed by the modern age,” ending with the grim pronouncement “Modern age/ Nothing to say.” “White Cops on Trial,” however, goes far beyond criticizing life in the digital age. With the same irresistibly jangly mix of pop guitars, funky bass and electronic blips, Smith delivers (still with his boppy vocal delivery) an indictment of the past two years of police violence. Incongruous doesn’t begin to describe it, but it’s still catchy as hell.
This isn’t to say that the rest of Moods Baby Moods is all mindless pop with no real message behind the songs. But Sonny & the Sunsets are more successful when they stick to the slacker succinctness of “Needs,” expressing the problematic nature of modern life and everyday greed with the simple line “I need more.” Or on the mind-numbing “Check Out,” which veers into stoner punk and turns the quotidian into something trippy but no less repetitive. Similarly, “Reject of the Lowest Planet” is a perfectly minimalist lo-fi take on love and defeatism, repeating “reject” like an irrefutable label. A lot of songs on Moods come down to that, one word or phrase dully repeated in Smith’s disaffected, matter-of-fact tone. On “Dead Meat on the Beach,” the combination of Smith’s droning “dead meat” and the looped guitar riff (over bongos, of all things) projects resignation while still sounding like an (albeit broody) pop track thanks to its synths.
Moods Baby Moods is a bizarre album, and purposefully so. It aims for weird funk-pop and delivers gloriously. And, honestly, any tonal discrepancies between pop aesthetics and lyrical sincerity only add to the weird factor. While Sonny & the Sunsets have veered into pysch folk before, this is their most solid foray into the realm of unabashed weirdness.