Sonny & The Sunsets: “Pretend You Love Me”

Over the course of a year, KUT features 260 songs of the day from a wide range of artists, each one catching our collective ear. For the next two weeks, we’ll be highlighting the best songs of the day from 2012, featuring big names, new discoveries, Studio 1A exclusives, and some tunes that might have gotten lost in the shuffle in the past twelve months.

As you can probably guess, San Francisco group Sonny & The Sunsets are pretty sunny. Lead singer and songwriter Sonny Smith writes pop songs that are delightfully low-key and low-stakes, songs about dreams and having fun.

That is, until his long-standing relationship with his girlfriend dissolved. Smith retreated into his writing and captured his thoughts almost in real-time. It was a trying situation, but Smith made the most of it by calling together the rest of his band for a recording session. On previous albums, Sonny & The Sunsets’ sound has been chameleon-like, changing genres song to song. But perhaps the humbling circumstances have focused the band like never before.

The result is Longtime Companion, a straight-ahead country album released this past summer. Sonny & The Sunsets have flirted with the style in the past, but here they dive right in. Pedal steel and loping rhythms perfectly match Smith’s voice, which is laconic and boyish yet still emotional. The band adds a bit of unusual color, especially on the standout track “Pretend You Love Me.” Over a laid-back groove, Smith openly pines, yet a chorus of flutes lightens up the atmosphere. Even if the subject matter is bleak, Sonny & The Sunsets know how to make it inviting.

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