"Girls, don't despair, 'cause soon, I'll be there," Sonny Smith sighs almost exactly halfway through Hit After Hit. It's an apt midpoint for the San Francisco singer-songwriter's second casually stunning album with his band, the Sunsets. Filtering non-specific 1950s and 60s beach-party rock 'n' roll through the so-hip-they're-square minimalism of Jonathan Richman, early B-52s or Violent Femmes, these 11 tracks artfully plumb the teenage libido submerged just below every movie sock hop ever.
Though Hit After Hit lacks an obvious standout like last year's "Too Young to Burn," it lives up to its title with a cadre of songs that operate at nearly that same high level. There are songs about girls who are confusing ("She Plays Yoyo With My Mind"), girls who leave with some other dude ("Don't Act Dumb"), girls from the past ("Reflections on Youth"), girls who are up for a one-night stand ("Heart of Sadness"), and the scary tough guys who may be competition for girls ("Teenage Thugs"). Whether a heart-tugging ballad ("Pretend You Love Me") or a stormy instrumental ("The Bad Energy From L.A. Is Killing Me"), Sonny & the Sunsets nail it all with wry charm, never schmaltz or coldness. "I wanna do it," goes the hook from the first single. Girls' response: "Oh, yeah."