Sonny & the Sunsets

San Francisco, Underground: I Need You Bad, Track by Track

Barry Walters

By Barry Walters

on 12.10.13 in Collections

As leader of Sonny & the Sunsets, one of the leading bands of San Francisco’s lauded garage-rock scene, Sonny Smith has heard plenty of no-good noiseniks kicking up royal ruckuses all across the Bay Area. But he’s also got an ear for the softer, more melodic side of mayhem. The Polyvinyl compilation he’s assembled, I Need You Bad, brings together the scalding-hot and the slushy, the brain-busting and the bashful from SF’s underground scene — and a few other points along the West Coast. If you like Thee Oh Sees, the city’s reigning kings and queens of skronk and squeal, there’s plenty here to satisfy your inner demon, but there’s even more to soothe your battered soul. And considering that the close proximity of swollen tech behemoths like Twitter and Google have recently driven Bay Area rents and evictions sky-high, there’s no telling if these philistines of sonic filth will last another season in the fog. Give them your ears — literally — while they’re still able to take ‘em.

Warm Soda

I Need You Bad

Various Artists

The sound: Pouty power-pop dosed with a shot of strychnine, this Oakland quartet moves faster and cause more excitement than a stocking full of Hot Wheels on your sixth Christmas.
Track: "Tell Me in a Whisper," a new single not on this year's fabulous and frothy Someone for You debut album, recalls pre-mustache Beatles, yet is sung by frontman Mathew Melton, who rocks a rockin' mustache.
If we were a Furry, we'd be… "the Ramones mouse from Rock 'n' Roll High School."

The Memories

The sound: The mellower alter-ego of Portland's White Fang, these hazy lo-fi dudes — led by Gnar Tapes cassette label honcho Eric Gage — are on permanent sick leave and they like it that way.
Track: "Higher," a reverb-drenched, so-sad-it's-happy ballad with thudding bass drum booms that suggests the bang-shang-a-lang of the Jesus and Mary Chain minus the nasty bits.
If we were a Furry, we'd… "have a mellow but sassy attitude, and would be called Caramel the Camel, because of all the humps."

Cool Ghouls

The sound: Whiney in the nicest way possible, this raucous San Francisco quartet kicks up a racket on their bratty and bashing self-titled 2013 debut.
Track: Easing off a bit, "Hot Summer" proves these gnarly dudes can clean up nicely even while lying convincingly, 'cause it only gets hot during San Francisco summers for maybe four consecutive days in late June.
If we were a Furry, we'd… "dress up as Cookie Monster, because then our sexual excursions could be centered around cookies: force-feeding them, licking cookie dough out of orifices, etc., etc., etc."

Pure Bliss

I Need You Bad

Various Artists

The sound: Formed in 2012 by singer Frank Ene, this Oakland duo (a quartet live) churns and chimes as if the young Byrds had all died in a 1966 suicide pact and came back to haunt the cartoon houses of Scooby Doo.
Track: "Thine Eyes," a ringing incantation of Elizabethan English and Rickenbacker-esque guitar tremble, with a nonstop instrumental earworm and insistent background vocal coos. Try to wipe them from your brain: It cannot be thus.

Sonny & the Sunsets

Antenna To The Afterworld

Sonny & The Sunsets

The sound: Melancholic musings from San Francisco troubadour/conceptual artist Sonny Smith and his continuously mutating band, who mix DIY folk, scuzzed-out psychedelia, corn-free country, synth-drone space rock, and other marginalia on several acclaimed albums.
Track: "Those Drawings I Told You About," a confidential mid-tempo missive featuring a mid-song guitar break obviously beamed in from battling distant planets.

The sound: Strikingly self-possessed San Francisco folk that suggests early Dolly Parton harmonizing with unplugged Stevie Nicks.
Track: "Dreams," a faster, but not rushed, and superior take on the delicate final cut from her 2012 debut. It's not the Fleetwood Mac song, but it's tenderly unsettling on its own terms.

Earth Girl Helen Brown

Story of an Earth Girl

Earth Girl Helen Brown

The sound: For his 2110 gallery installation 100 Records, Sonny Smith invited 100 artists to create 100 LP jackets of imaginary bands. Smith not only created fictional bios for every act, but also recorded 200 songs (100 A-sides and 100 B's) for them as well. The Sandwitches' Heidi Alexander voiced the wantonly self-destructive Earth Girl Helen Brown persona for their 2011 EP, but here Ms. Brown sounds as though she might've changed her sex.
Track: "Far Away Place," an acoustic and proudly misanthropic jam perfect for those precious moments when you wish the entire universe would simply fuck off.

Burnt Ones

The sound: Bi-gender and quite likely acid-fried San Francisco trio hell-bent on aural destruction. Feedback, reverb and tremolo are best buds on their steadily growing and sinister discography.
Track: "Premonition," a typically screeching, seething, but steadily grooving mantra of fear and ill will.
If we were a Furry, we'd be… "house cats."

Magic Trick

The sound: Boy/girl/boy/girl, like ABBA but not, this San Francisco quartet serves as the softer, yet more experimental outlet for Fresh & Onlys frontman Tim Cohen.
Track: "Miracle of Life," a non-ironic, life-affirming respite that nevertheless sounds as though Cohen recorded his vocal underwater and/or beneath several leagues of bummer.
If we were a Furry, we'd be… "Ron Jeremy. Duh."

Chris Cohen

The sound: Former player for Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Cass McCombs, Deerhoof and other willing freaks, this singer-songwriter/one-man-band conjures the ghosts of many early '70s soft-rockers without sounding exactly like any one of them.
Track: "Open Theme," a demo of the final cut on Cohen's 2012 solo debut, glides on gently crying country guitars absent from the piano-favoring album version. We dare you not to like this one better.


I Need You Bad

Various Artists

The sound: The dream-pop solo project of Dylan Tidyman-Jones — former frontman of goth-psych San Francisco band the Mallard — mixes haunted harmonies, plucked guitars, drum machines and mallet-stroked cymbal crashes to softly massage your skull.
Key Track: "Wash," a taster from the newly Oakland-based singer's recently released vinyl album, lives up to the record label's declaration that Fronds make "music for smart weirdos to make out to."
If we were a Furry, we'd be… "an octopus, because tentacles."

Little Wings

The sound: Morphing since the late '90s, its various memberships revolving around leader/artist/surfer Kyle Draws, this amorphous quasi-solo project specializes in truly indigenous West Coast folk-rock.
Key Track: "All Alone House," a pained but nearly jazzy invocation of solitude, is as good of an introduction to Little Wings' lonely world — and sizable catalog — as any.
If I were a Furry, I'd be… "a fuzzy plush Smurf. They were made well, and while it's impossible to fully nail the artist Peyo's creations three-dimensionally, I always appreciated the areas in which the stuffed Smurf failed. It was not unlike seeing bootleg art of any kind, be it a poorly-rendered Steal Your Face, or a Bart Simpson made of housepaint in Tijuana. A near miss is beautiful. I would have an ambitious tailor hack the whole job together, using only the most gorgeous turquoise blue furry fabric we could find, and make Smurf T-shirts to sell. Would you like that?"

Wet Illustrated

I Need You Bad

Various Artists

The sound: Shambolic tantrums from San Francisco trio spew squalls of homemade guitar-bass-drum rumble and beaucoup shouting.
Key Track: "Honey Goes" thrashes and bashes for two minutes like an ADD-addled kindergartener crying for a time-out.
If we were a Furry, we'd be… "Who says we're not already?"

Sun Foot

I Need You Bad

Various Artists

The sound: Casually strange Portland/Los Angeles trio flaunting its droning peculiarity.
Track: Grinding guitars over nearly random drum machine lashing, "Why Do You Want to Throw a Brick?" recalls early, early Devo — low on melody, yet highly de-evolution-ized.
If we were a Furry, we'd be… Chris: "A sloth, because I move slow and eat poison, so it is my spirit animal."
Brian: "I would be freezer burn, because my horny-levels for nihilism are thru-the-roof."
Ron: "My furry would be a slice of pizza, but my legs arms and head will all be wolf paws."

The Sandwitches

The sound: This all-female San Francisco trio fronted by Fresh & Onlys backup singers are a little bit country and a little bit rock 'n' roll, but with a lot more lovin'.
Track: Suggesting a mash-up between Duane Eddy and gender-bending Beach Boys, "Sun in Rain" strips the already skeletal sound of the 'Witches two albums by trading drums for sassy pig calls.
If I were a Furry, I'd be… "a sleepy sheep, so my baby son could cuddle up next to me and fall asleep."