San Franciscan Sonny Smith proved his songwriting chops in perpetuity with 2009's 100 Records, making up 100 fictitious bands and recording 200 songs in a compendium of styles for an art installation (some of it released in collections through Turn Up Records).
Smith's latest, Antenna to the Afterworld, dials back the style-hopping without sacrificing his eclectic vision; a friend's murder was the catalyst, especially a spiritually fruitful psychic visit. Smith's twist, though, was to write from the viewpoint of an alien visiting Earth. It'd be a specious conceit in pretentious hands, but Smith uses it to wink at how weird our social mores and courtship rites are.
Antenna conveys the mood through understatement. Smith's blend of new wave synths, insistent Joy Division basslines and a lo-fi feel suits these odd tales of extraterrestrial love and transmissions to the afterlife. Top it off with Smith's David Berman-deadpan and wry lyrics Jonathan Richman might've penned, and the weird vibe thoroughly seduces.
"Green Blood" finds Smith and Tahlia Harbour sing-speaking call-and-response vocals to narrate Smith's doomed affair with an android. "I come from the planet of dogs," Smith sings on the scifi tale "Dark Corners," synths droning over a loping VU beat, "and I can't wait to find/My little place in your weird world." "Palmreader," with its dance beat and lo-fi lyricism, shows off Smith's songwriting flair by sounding like the 70th track from Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs.
The record's chief flaw is that the deadpan seeps into everything, belying that this is, after all, an alien's take on our fucked-up world. But given Smith's prolificacy and eccentricity, he may just have insider's insight into that, too.
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