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Sunwatchers | Oh Yeah?

There's eclectic and then there's eclectic. And then there's Sunwatchers.


THE PRESS RELEASE: “Despite (perhaps) being the band’s most accessible & melodic work to date, New York quartet Sunwatchers’ fourth album Oh Yeah? arrives in a flurry of notes with the buzzing hum of Sunwatchers vs. Tooth Decay; the title referencing a 1976 album featuring athlete and activist Muhammad Ali. A cheeky nod to be sure, but laced with the utmost reverence. This attitude sums up Sunwatchers’ aesthetic in a nutshell; the acknowledgement (typically via the band’s irreverent song titles or album art) that the things in life we should take seriously are better faced and understood when disarmed by a wink or nudge. The band may cloak their fiery activism in a jester’s outfit, but it does nothing to dull the force of their attack. The one-two punch of Love Paste & Brown Ice hits next, with the former’s tender opening melody punctuated by exuberant “WOO!”s while the latter launches into an urgent, stuttering march that utilizes an effective musical wind-up and release, ratcheting up a ferocious intensity across its near six minute runtime. Thee Worm Store closes out the first side, beginning with a lumbering synth growl, until it picks up speed and ends as a frantic noisy free-for-all. Side 2 strides forth with The Conch, an obvious Lord of The Flies reference, and a delicious subversion of the idea of a “hero’s anthem” weighted down by the trappings of tribalism. The album’s showstopper however is The Earthsized Thumb, the near 20-minute closing track. Guitarist Jim McHugh lays down a hypnotic Saharan guitar melody as the rest of the band ushers themselves in one by one over the tune’s distinct musical movements, a Quick One for all the heads perhaps? The album’s title Oh Yeah? is at once an homage to Mingus, Thee Oh Sees’ album Help (whose Brigid Dawson hand-sewed the tapestry adorning the album’s front cover) and (naturally) the rallying cry of KoolBrave himself — the Kool-Aid Man-as-Braveheart avatar the band adopted as their symbol.”

MY TWO CENTS: There’s eclectic and then there’s eclectic. And then there’s Sunwatchers. This trailblazing New York instrumental quartet — a traditional guitar-bass-drums trio augmented by a sax/keyboard player — straddle the fence between rock, modern jazz, psychedelia, prog, funk, world music, avant-garde and a couple of more genres I probably just haven’t noticed yet. And somehow, on their fourth full-length Oh Yeah? — a disc every bit as challenging and confrontational as its title — these wild-man virtuosos put it all together with flair, originality and no shortage of brilliance. But perhaps most importantly, they do it without coming off like a bunch of pretentious wanker-nerd musos. This is one of those albums you have to hear to believe. Even then, it’s pretty unbelievable.