Sunny War Draws From Array of Styles on Cathartic and Effective ‘Anarchist Gospel’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Photograph by Joshua Black Wilkins

Sunny War’s new LP and her debut for New West Records, Anarchist Gospel, is as impressive as it is hard to pin down. There are elements of roots, rock, folk and soul blended throughout sounding a bit like everything and absolutely no one at the same time. Even if all of the vocals were stripped from the record, it would still be a powerful collection based on her guitar playing alone. Thankfully that’s not the case as her distinctively deep vocals and complex lyrics make for a stunningly effective experience.      

Raised on AC/DC and Motley Crue, before discovering punk bands like X and Bad Brains, there is certainly a gritty punk vibe that flows through her music, even if she’s playing an acoustic Guild rather than plugging in and stomping on a distortion pedal. Emotionally and creatively, Anarchist Gospel embodies the original 1970s fuck the rulebook punk rock ethos. The sound collage of the various voices singing/talking “When the humans are away” at the end of “Shelter And Storm” is a perfect example. It comes as no surprise then that Sunny War was in punk bands before striking out on her own.

There is a dark background that inspired a lot of the music on Anarchist Gospel. Drinking in high school, War eventually dropped out and pivoted to meth and heroin eventually ending up in a sober living facility after a number of seizures. These experiences and more can be heard throughout the album. An emotionally wrenching break up also served as fodder for the record.  

She describes a lot of the songs here as her “tantrums,” writing about what she’s going through, and feeling better after getting them out. “I Got No Fight,” written when War was still living in apartment she once shared with her ex and contemplating suicide, is one of those tantrums; a slow, almost meditative song about giving up that’s deeply affecting. Aside from that painful breakup, the album also covers her move to Nashville and the death of her father. War also manages to completely remake the two covers on this record; Ween’s “Baby Bitch” and Van Hunt’s “Hopeless” (originally made popular by Dionne Farris more than two decades ago).

The dozen self-penned songs that make up Anarchist Gospel roll out a bleak, damaging past that War weathered. But putting it on record hopefully served as a cathartic experience for the immensely talented musician. The album, though emotionally weighty, offers a testament to moving on and surviving and makes for thoroughly unforgettable listen.    

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