Always eclectic but dependable in quality, the primarily guitar-based Sonny & the Sunsets have taken on country music, aliens, early rock & roll, psychic contact, garage rock, and screenplay inspirations, among other varied styles and subjects, even flirting with synths on their two prior albums. For their sixth long-player, Sonny Smith and gang enlisted tUnE-yArDs' Merrill Garbus to produce, and look to '80s new wave and funk for sonic inspiration. Under threat of bleeping keyboards and drum machines, fans needn't worry that the band has shed their characteristically loose and lo-fi sensibility. However, as is unusually the case on a Garbus project, things get weird (weirder) and more vibrant on Moods Baby Moods. Even those expecting the unexpected will likely be surprised by the exploding, distorted percussion in the opener "Death Cream II" and the funky disco of "Moods," though all of the above are details rather than redefinition. A song like "Modern Age" incorporates nettling synths alongside guitars, grooving bass, bongos, spoken word samples, shifting tempos, strings, and drum loops, retaining a handmade-with-love feel while incorporating more mechanical tools. Elsewhere, the garage-y, sci-fi-evoking "Reject of the Lowest Planet" ("Reject of the lowest kind/Reject, won't you please be mine?") keeps elements of the '60s in the mix. Less typical for the Sunsets, press materials mention Tom Tom Club among the album's influences, and that band's presence is unmistakable on "Well But Strangely Hung Man," a quirky, new wave funk-rap. Also sporting an '80s facade, "White Cops on Trial" takes on the day's headlines with catchy dance-rock and ultra-wry lyrics ("What will the jury say?/We have found him not guilty 'cause we are insane/Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, we are crazy"). Altogether infectious and loaded with robust basslines, the result of the collaboration is slightly restrained for Garbus and ornate for Smith, finding a savory middle ground that, though not without its more reflective moments and plenty of angst, consistently merits smiles and moving feet.
© Marcy Donelson /TiVo