Sonny Smith – Sees All Knows All
You could look at his output for (the brilliant) Fat Possum Records and think that he does nice, borderline pastiche retro-pop, and he sort of does. Or he can. That stuff isn’t exactly bad either – I absolutely fucking love Hit After Hit, for example, which I think I once characterised as ‘Hill Valley 1955 doesn’t give a fuck’.
It’s a silly term, but it sort of makes sense. It has that milkshakes and drive-ins charm, but it’s delivered in a way which is just ever so slightly off. A bit slacker, a bit lazier, a bit deviant… I’m not sure what it is, but I fucking love it. But that’s a million miles away from this, which is nuttier than squirrel shite.
The first inkling I got as to how much creative energy Smith had, and the first time I started to realise quite how far he liked to deviate from the three-minute pop song, was the gloriously ambitious, utterly ridiculous, and brilliantly realised 100 Records Project. The idea was quite simple: 100 artists design covers for 100 fictional singles by 100 fictional bands, and Sonny Smith then made the actual songs – 200 of the fucking things because he did b-sides as well – to make these fictional bands a reality. Albeit a rather twisted reality.
The first I heard of Smith at all was his involvement in the glorious Earth Girl Helen Brown, which is one of the bands which emerged from the 100 Records project.
That whole EP is fucking glorious, but while there are some cracking pop tunes on there, there is also just a little bit of oddness, like this for example. What else emerged into the world from the 100 Records project was a little more straightforward though, and I didn’t think about it all that much until pretty much the entire thing became available on three volumes of cassette tape, of which I bought the lot. Broke Artist, which also makes an appearance on Sees All Knows All, was on one of those along with various other digressions, experimentations and the odd cracking, hummable wee gem.
So while you might be a bit shocked by this album if you’ve followed Sonny Smith’s more commercial releases, it seems almost inevitable if you’ve followed his more offbeat projects over the years. And weird as it is, it’s fucking brilliant.
Basically an album of rambling, surreal, spoken word storytelling set to music, but quite why I find it so utterly fascinating and enjoyable instead of just fucking terrible I have no idea, as something like this could so easily be the latter.
The delivery helps, I think. Smith is just as insouciant and laid-back as he is when he sings pop songs. Also, the text of the pieces themselves veers so unpredictably from the banal to the unpleasant to the hallucinogenically comical that you never really know where you stand. It’s autobiographical, apparently, but you never really know whether to take that kind of statement at face value. Whatever the fuck it is, there’s a strong chance you might just think I’ve lost my marbles recommending it, but seriously, this is absolutely great. Get one here.More: earth girl helen brown, sonny and the sunsets, sonny smith