HausLive 1: Sunwatchers at Cafe Mustache 4/13/2019

To be released on cassette and digitally on 9/6/19. C50 – Gray shell with black imprints – super-ferric stock. 2-sided 3-panel J-card with artwork by HausMo Max. This is the catalog page with album information and artwork. To view the store page, click here.


The New York City-based exploratory rock quartet Sunwatchers unite the ecstatic guitar / sax leads and spontaneous energy of free jazz with the repetition and tempered discipline characteristic of minimalism or krautrock. With HausLive 1: Sunwatchers at Cafe Mustache 4/13/2019, the band marks the inauguration of Hausu Mountain’s new series of live recordings highlighting the headiest underground music performed in Chicago. The series channels the spirit of informal bootlegging and tape trading as pioneered by the community surrounding the Grateful Dead, honing in on the raw live energy and in-the-moment emotions that make each show stand out in the stream of time. Selected from the archives of prolific Chicago taper Joel Berk, HausLive 1 bears witness as Sunwatchers weave flights of fried improvisation into tightly synchronized passages of psych-adjacent riff worship. While the band seems poised to dive into the no-man’s-land of unmediated chaos at any given moment, shades of more traditional rock songwriting and bursts of finely sculpted melody tie them down to solid ground. Their 46-minute set features a number of songs from Illegal Moves, their 2019 release with mainstay Chicago label Trouble In Mind, alongside many songs that have never appeared on record before.

HausLive 1 documents Sunwatchers’ tour stop in Chicago in April 2019, recorded in front of a packed house at Logan Square bar venue / coffeeshop Cafe Mustache — on the bill with the firebrand spiritual jazz multi-instrumentalist Angel Bat Dawid and BBsitters Club, the genre-bending prog/rock project featuring HausMo honchos Doug Kaplan and Max Allison. The no-frills audio feed from Berk’s handheld recorder in the audience captures Sunwatchers’ set at a surprising level of clarity and dynamic range. Jeff Tobias alternates between glistening legato runs on his electric keyboard that evoke the hypnotic patterns of Terry Riley, and a strain of skronky yet aura-drenched saxophone performance in the tradition of Pharaoh Sanders or Albert Ayler. His soaring sax breaks through the din in grand melodic figures that tumble through diverse scales and tonalities, or spirals out of control during fast-fingered moments of blistering atonality. Jim McHugh’s guitar frequently latches into step with Tobias’s sax lines, pouring out tandem torrents of melody that serve as the structural punctuation of the head passage in a jazz chart. Elsewhere, McHugh tears off into his own mangled brand of six-string shred in the noise rock / no wave spirit of bands like Sightings or Rhys Chatham’s guitar ensembles, before switching over to the three-stringed Thai instrument known as the electric phin for bouts of more cyclical, meditative riffing focused around non-western scales and harmonies. Bassist Peter Kerlin pounds out precise one- or two-note mantras that serve as the rhythmic glue to his bandmates’ freewheeling explorations, or steps up for moments of busier fretwork that take the lead while the guitar rockets off into hyperspace. In the vein of Can’s Jaki Liebezeit, drummer Jason Robira straddles the line between machine-like precision and manic, octopus-armed fill work, seamlessly leading the band into segments with atypical time signatures or open-ended expanses of arrhythmic improv.

Drawing from a seemingly bottomless well of musical touchstones from both inside and outside the rock canon, Sunwatchers paint themselves as ardent listeners with a deep-seated knowledge of fringe genres and the dedication to back up their combinatory songs with prodigious performance chops. HausLive 1: Sunwatchers at Cafe Mustache 4/13/2019 highlights the quartet as one exponent of a growing demographic of bands like Horse Lords, Guerrilla Toss, and Palberta — groups that splice the DNA of the guitars/bass/drums rock tradition with tones, structures, and rhythms from a vast stable of international musical styles. Embodying a kind of post-internet approach to composition where the music of all eras serves as fodder for recontextualization, Sunwatchers blasts their way out of the trappings of any armchair musical analysis thanks to their hyper-passionate performances crammed full of enough climaxes and juxtaposed ideas to make your head spin as you bob along in time from the audience.


^^^^^ photo by Isaac Schell