Loud Minded: The music you didn't know you loved
Music columnist William Schmitt on communications from Planet Sonnymoon
The color blue often evokes emotional responses by mellowing the mind and eliminating jitters from the breath. Simply looking at a shade of indigo or navy slows the heart rate and acts as a milder form of rubbing the temples. My editor told me to branch out from rap and, dutiful little lab rat that I am, that’s exactly what I’ll do. Climbing the hip-hop family tree is a path laded with jewels and scratched soul records. At the roots lie the music we call the blues.
I was going to use this space to profile blues legends Skip James and Robert Johnson, but I realized I don’t know nearly enough about them. Instead, I’ll look at Sonnymoon, a group that evokes the same feelings of wanderlust, melancholy and solitary reflection as its angsty ancestor, the blues genre. Singer Anna Wise and producer Dane Orr combine vocals that are pure without being emotionally flat with instrumentals that are intriguing without being distracting.
The experimental indie-rock group's first release, Golden Age, dropped at the tail end of 2009, and it instantly captured my attention with tracks like “Run Away” and “Gills or Wings." The initial choppiness of “Run Away” gives way to a rollicking ballad, riding the musical scale up and down like a Sunday driver. Wise’s words sound playfully sad, and the contrast is like watching a sepia film of children playing in a sandbox while “Lux Aeterna” plays softly. It’s as though Wise wrote these in a confusing whirlwind state, with her tears dripping onto her notebook in the shape of a hopeful smile.
Last year, Sonnymoon built on the promises of their first album with a self-titled sequel. Here they veered toward a free jazz feel, with more experimentation on Orr’s part being the most noticeable difference. Take a song like “Kali” – hi-hat cymbals fill the silence in between Wise’s plaintive musings as rain drops gently clatter onto the surface of a loose snare drum.
Wise has a really beautiful voice and layers it really nicely on a cover of Drake's “Houstatlantavegas." Because she can rise to the occasion and provide a dark, low coo as well as a light, airy whisper, Orr has the freedom to experiment with his percussion arrangements and basslines. Although Anna Wise is the frontwoman here and undeniably has more fame than her buddy behind the boards, Dane Orr shows a lot of talent with his production and can go from contemplative to zany in the span of a few seconds.
While Orr seems content to work solely in the context of the group, Wise has appeared on a handful of hip-hop songs. In fact, I discovered Sonnymoon after she collaborated with southern hip-hop trio CunninLynguists on two songs for their 2011 album Oneirology. It's fitting that a girl with such a reverie-inducing voice appears on an album named after the study of dreams. She worked with CunninLynguists’ producer Kno on one more track and then made her way out to Los Angeles to work with Black Hippy members Ab-Soul and Kendrick Lamar for their respective 2012 albums Control System and good kid, m.A.A.d. city.
Sonnymoon isn't a traditional band; they haven’t toured much, and they built buzz for their music seemingly exclusively via Internet presence. Recently, they’ve taken the path most traveled by adding Joe Welch to contribute his drumming talents and Tyler Randall for guitar, bass and additional programming. Besides expanding the sounds they can create, the group can now go on the road and play as a four-piece ensemble with the sound of a traditional band. Doing so represents a step outward from Boston and will increase their sphere of influence; no doubt the influences they come across on their travels will translate into future music as well.
If you think you would like music similar to Sonnymoon — with a beautiful female voice over a trippy, synthy orchestra — check out like-minded groups Phantogram and Child Actor.
Thanks for reading.