By Andrew Jones | Published April 2019
The cover of Sunwatchers’ Illegal Moves depicts a radicalized Kool-Aid Man pushing back against a murderers’ row of iconic conservative bogeymen, from Nixon to Thatcher to Ted Nugent. And its musical content mirrors the entertainment value of the image: utterly enjoyable, crowd-pleasingly right on and comfortably familiar.
The New York-based quartet unveiled its noisy, psychedelic jazz-rock on a self-titled 2016 album, and for its third recording, the ensemble keeps intact the formula that made its first two releases so compelling. Bassist Peter Kerlin and drummer Jason Robira underpin most songs with tight, repetitive rhythmic figures. Reedist Jeff Tobias’ adenoidal squawking ratchets up the tension in some places, and in others develops any number of the album’s memorable tunes.
“Beautiful Crystals” starts with Kerlin and Robira playing a thumping, looping pattern. Tobias, doubling on keys, and guitarist Jim McHugh weave a melodic latticework that repeats and expands into fractal complexity. McHugh’s distorted, wah-wah helps the track breathe, and Kerlin’s subtly shifting bass line adds depth. But “Everybody Play” is the album’s sincerest and jazziest statement, opening into a rolling improvisational section that finds McHugh buzzsawing and Tobias screeching freely.
Despite the album cover’s implied promise, though, nothing revolutionary takes place. Instead, Illegal Moves offers a highly literate, technically proficient blend of familiar sounds from templates frequently associated with insurgent potential. The album succeeds when its compositions outgrow their influences, or when moments of sincerity peep through.
Illegal Moves: New Dad Blues; Beautiful Crystals; Greeneyed Pigmen (Get The Blade); Everybody Play; Psychic Driving; Ptah, The El Daoud; Strollin Coma Blues. (40:35)
Personnel: Jim McHugh, guitar, electric phin, saz; Jeff Tobias, alto saxophone, keyboards, bass clarinet; Peter Kerlin, bass; Jason Robira, drums, percussion; Jonah Rapino, violin (1, 6); David Kadden, oboe (6).