Sunwatchers fuse proto-punk and free jazz, while Olden Yolk craft sophisticated, harmony-laden pop | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Sunwatchers fuse proto-punk and free jazz, while Olden Yolk craft sophisticated, harmony-laden pop


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On their bruising second album, Sunwatchers II (Trouble in Mind), New York instrumental quartet Sunwatchers further refine their flinty collision of scorching free jazz and numbing proto-punk. Yet while the combo’s ethos is guided by influences such as the Stooges blowout “LA Blues” and the acidic skronk of guitarist Sonny Sharrock, there’s more to their game than pure aggression. Like a needling knottiness to the licks of Jim McHugh, who boogies down on the opening track, “Nose Beers,” with an electric phin—a Thai lute—suggesting a distortion-curdled analogue to the riffing of Saharan rockers Tinariwen. Most of the band worked as backing musicians for free-jazz saxophonist Arthur Doyle before his death in 2014, and while their raucous, psychedelic din is rock music through and through, its fiery improvisational drive—including some jacked-up double-drum action when Ryan Sawyer sits in—colors just about every machination. Moments of relative calm exist too, such as the hovering beauty of “There Are Weapons You Can Bring to School,” its glistening surface provided by guest Cory Bracken’s vibraphone. Sunwatchers share a bill with Olden Yolk, who’ve dropped one of the year’s most pleasurable psych-pop albums: their self-titled full-length, also on Trouble in Mind. The group explores a more pastoral, sunshine-pop sound than founder Shane Butler’s other outfit, Quilt, and he gets a huge assist from Caity Shaffer, who provides beautiful harmonies while moving between keyboards and bass. Vocal melodies are the focal point, but the instrumental arrangements are just as appealing: a landscape of jangly guitars melded to the ambitious production style of 70s Laurel Canyon pop, with a skittering rhythmic thrust that feels utterly modern.   v

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