REVIEW: Sunny War’s “Shell of a Girl” is Visceral Look at Relationships

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One of the most notable facets of the music business in 2019 is the lack of prolificacy. It’s not that musicians are any less creative than their predecessors. But, with music sales bottoming out, leaving artists chasing other sources of much-needed revenue (touring, selling merch, launching Kickstarter campaigns), there’s simply less time (and monetary incentive) to be actively creative. So, when I saw that the artist behind one of my favorite albums from last year, With The Sun, had another release on the calendar, I jumped on the chance to give it an early listen. Here’s a peek at Sunny War’s latest, Shell Of A Girl (Hen House Studios).

One of the more striking aspects of With The Sun was its visceral look at relationships, particularly the no-words-minced “Violent.” From the drop of the needle on this new album, Sunny warns the listener that this won’t be an easy ride – “Before you rip your girl to shreds/Be sure you really want her dead” is the FIRST line on the lead track, “Shell.” It’s not a literal, Friday night “Dateline” episode kind of girl-shredding, but the effect is still devastating, particularly with a deceptively cheerful melody backing a story of carelessly destroying the one you love: “By the time you realize you were wrong/You’ll find the girl you love is gone.” That amorous sting continues on “Love Becomes Pain,” but what stands out on this track is the complex guitar interplay between Sunny (acoustic) and Milo Gonzalez (electric), backed by a sped-up shuffle from Micah Nelson on drums. Another knockout collaboration is “The Place,” which finds Sunny trading guitar licks and vocals with French-Spanish import Edith Crash (side note – check out Crash’s 2015 album, Partir. It’s good and grungy and what I imagine French Americana would sound like. If I could understand French).

Social issues are a big part of Sunny War’s songwriting. “Drugs Are Bad” in an indictment of our treatment of mental health – “Drugs are bad/Unless of course you/Get too sad” – as well as our attitude that the only “good” drugs are manufactured ones: “All the remorse you/Thought you had/Will be examined/In a lab.” And “Off The Cuff” shows that Sunny is, well, not a big fan of our particular brand of democracy: “Making a living making minimum wage/I’m enraged full time just ain’t enough.” And even the well-off don’t enjoy chasing the dollar: “You looking good in your suit and tie/Work real hard but you don’t get out much/You may stay paid ‘til the day you die/But always get home too tired to f**k.” Find me someone who hasn’t felt that way.

Sunny War has lived an unusual life: growing up as a punk rocker, hopping trains, surviving homelessness and busking on Venice Beach while teaching herself to play guitar. Now that she has, in 2019 terms, found some amount of musical success, she seems a bit stunned. In “Rock N Roll Heaven”, she realizes that she’s passed that mythical age of rock star self-immolation, and, hey, she’s still here: “It seems I’ve made it past 27/There goes my ticket to rock n roll heaven.” Riches, though, have not come her way: “Ain’t got no money ain’t got no car/Just got the blues and this old guitar.” That guitar, along with her songwriting chops, have put her right where she needs to be, fame and fortune be damned.

Shell Of A Girl was produced by Harlan Steinberger and recorded at Hen House Studios on Venice Beach. Additional musicians include Tato (percussion), Aroyn Davis (bass), and Lesterfari Simbarashe (electric guitar).

Go here to download Shell Of A Girl: https://henhousestudios.bandcamp.com/album/shell-of-a-girl

Check out Sunny War tour dates here: https://www.bandsintown.com/a/1162506

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