Sunny War: Simple Syrup

In those seemingly far away days before the pandemic, Los Angeles based singer, songwriter, guitarist Sunny War was making quite an impact with her album Shell of a Girl (also reviewed here) as well as a highly acclaimed appearance at an NPR Tiny Desk concert. Now she is back with a new album Simple Syrup.

She has kept busy during the pandemic by writing and recording the eleven new songs for this release. Not just that, she also founded a Los Angeles chapter of the non-profit organisation Food Not Bombs and gathered volunteers to distribute vegan food to the homeless. She also marched for BLM to protest police brutality.

Like the previous album, Simple Syrup was recorded at Hen House Studios in Venice Beach with producer Harlan Steinberger. The album goes for a looser, more live atmosphere, focusing on the interplay between the musicians. The core trio are Sunny War on vocals and guitar, Ayron Davis on bass, and drummer Paul Allen, and they are joined by a few other musicians when needed.

There’s a warm atmosphere on the opener ‘Lucid Lucy’ on which her fingerpicking guitar style is aided by some cello. ‘Mama’s Milk’ strikes a jazzy note with saxophone alongside the guitar, bass, and drums, while ‘Like Nina’ is also jazz infused but begins almost as if it’s going to be West African desert blues.  

The lyrics encompass everything from romance to politics. ‘Kiss a Loser’ is an ode to her own drunken self in relationships. But she shifts easily to weightier subjects, none more so than on ‘Deployed and Destroyed’. This is a song about a friend – a veteran of the Iraq wars – who fell apart, unable to get the care he needed and now homeless with severe mental trauma. It will resonate here in Okinawa with its huge military base presence.

Sunny War (Photo: Florencia P. Marano)

Sunny War has also experienced living on the streets and was a beneficiary of Food Not Bombs handouts. Of her work with them she says: “I can’t do much, but Food Not Bombs helps us come together as a community and realize that we are a community. Now I see people every week and we know each other. It’s also about not looking away when you see somebody in this situation.”

Despite some of its tortured themes, the album is delivered with an ease and simplicity that never overstates or overstays. Sunny War is looking to art to bring solace in hard times. As she says: “I want Simple Syrup to be an album of refuge. An album you can listen to when you want to get away.”

This is the stop-motion animation video for the song ‘Lucid Lucy’ – a meditation on the appeal of lucid dreaming:

Simple Syrup will be released on 26th March by Hen House Studios.

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