New York's instrumental quartet Sunwatchers
(drummer Jason Robira, alto saxophonist Jeff Tobias,
bassist Peter Kerlin and Jim McHugh on electric phin, a stringed Thai instrument)
debuted with the cassette Tomb Howl (2014).
Three of them (McHugh, Tobias and Robira) were members of Dark Meat.
Their mission was hard to pin down on their first proper album,
Sunwatchers (2016). Instrumentals such as
Herd Of Creeps and White Woman mix Canterbury prog-rock, quasi-punk verve and minimalist repetition.
The eight-minute Ape Phases is an extension of this idea, with the
repetition (led by the saxophone) becoming increasingly fast and noisy.
On the other hand, the blues-jazz jam For Sonny (with additional guitarists Ben Greenberg and Dave Harrington) and the saxophone ballad Eusebius
are more atmospheric pieces.
Moroner is a Jimi Hendrix-ain display of McHugh's improvisation skills.
The eight-minute Moon Changes is the highlight of the album:
the repetitive saxophone patterns are coupled with
Neu's motorik rhythm
and a country flavor (Jonah Rapino on electric fiddle), resulting in
something akin to a frenzied Celtic dance.
Sun Worship (2017), recorded live with added guitarist Justin Frye,
debuted their number Noise Beers that harkens back to blues-rock of the 1960s, replete with Eric Clapton-ian "wah-wah" guitar but erupting with the hard-rocking fever of Colosseum.
The high-energy free-form jam Wipe Up Part I sounds like Captain Beefheart's Magic Band joining an "Indian" pow-wow,
but the peak of dementia is reached with the propulsive dance The Hot Eye/ El Ojo Caliente.
The 14-minute jam Akha Chunks/ Molam is simply a demonstration of Thailand's hypnotic molam music (that does not justify its duration).
The original disc included a 22-minute improvisation on Merle Haggard's Sing Me Back Home.
A shorter version of Nose Beers and a
more hypnotic version of The Hot Eye were included in
Sunwatchers II (Trouble In Mind, 2018).
The swinging rockabilly beat of Silent Boogie is mercilessly attacked by a squealing saxophone and a wah-wah guitar.
The relentless repetition of The Works sounds like a combined tribute to Neu, Glenn Branca and early Anthony Braxton.
Their first song (vocal piece), the martial nine-minute
Flowers Of The Water, indulges briefly in a
wordless melody sung by Brigid Dawson of Thee Oh Sees and then takes a detour into an anguished phin ballad before
self-destroying in the best collective freak-out jam of the album.
The ten-minute There Are Weapons You Can Bring To School is instead disappointing: a confused free-form psychedelic raga that sounds only like a beginning from beginning to end.
The double-LP 3 Characters (Amish, 2018) was a collaboration with Eugene Chadbourne, devoted to reinterpreting
the music of the Minutemen,
of Doug Sahm and of
Illegal Moves (Trouble In Mind, 2019), better played and produced,
is a parade of what they do best:
New Dad Blues sounds like Canterbury prog-rock (particularly the circular melodic leitmotif) coupled with sidereal Helios Creed-ian guitar;
Beautiful Crystals is propelled by
hammering Glenn Branca-esque guitars;
the speedy Greeneyed Pigmen grafts
Jimi Hendrix-ian guitar (phin) rambling on
to driving bass and organ a` la Doors;
Psychic Driving impersonates a feverish Brazilian dance with dissonant guitar (phin) colliding with clownish saxophone;
Strollin' Coma Blues is a
Captain Beefheart-ian blues
with a cacophonous coda a` la Albert Ayler.
The jazz element stands out especially in
Everybody Play, a ballad crafted by
romantic saxophone and bowed vibraphone (Cory Bracken);
a raga-psychedelic cover of Alice Coltrane's Ptah the El Daoud, that also features Jonah Rapino on violin and David Kadden on oboe.