Sungazer Run Through a Genre Defying Mixtape of Technical Wizardry on their Debut Album, Perihelion
Adam Neely and Cam Crowder bring a long a highly talented lineup to realize their first full-length record
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This weekend, I was playing Sungazer’s debut album, Perihelion, in the car when my wife asked, “okay, we’re five songs in… what the hell is the genre considered?”. A question that rarely makes me stumble, there’s no box for the band to fit neatly.
Sungazer is the highly talented partnership of Adam Neely and Shawn Crowder, who started the project in Brooklyn in 2014. Both Berklee College of Music graduates, their chops are on display throughout Perihelion, which glides somewhere amongst the progressive electro-jazz, EDM, 8-bit, and glitch labels. Neely is a well-known YouTuber and award-winning composer, who plays the bass and synths on the effort, while Crowder (whose other group, PLS.trio, was nominated in the NPR Jazz Critics poll) covers the drums and percussion of all kinds. After a few successful EPs and a ton of touring, the duo has brought along a vast guest list to realize their vision for Perihelion.
Eastern-influenced opener “Threshold” is a mission statement for the record, establishing that their unconventional time signatures and instrument combos will take the listener on a one-of-a-kind experience. The track is led by Zac Zinger’s gorgeous shakuhachi work, which gives way to an 8-bit chorus reminiscent of many movie theme songs from the ’80s. The infectious “Macchina” starts with an empty mall chillwave vibe which features Crowder on Touch Guitar (watch him discuss the instrument here) before giving way to sawing synth loops in the vein of The Helio Sequence before opening into a city pop refrain as Neely and Crowder trade-off showing their chops.
“All These People” moves the record into prog territory, thanks to the guitar work of Thank You Scientist’s Tom Monda, and is also the first song of many on the album to feature the saxophone work of Jared Yee, who is continually a highlight throughout. A jamtronica exercise of the highest order, the track is comparable to the sound of Lotus or Tauk, and I would love to hear more of this from Sungazer. “Lunar” is perhaps the best song on the album. A city pop piece that at its core could have featured on the latest Mitch Murder record, Neely and Crowder once again defy conventionality by whisking the genre with progressive fusion. Yee and Zinger return to lend their sax expertise, while fellow Berklee grad Shubh Saran displays some wonderful guitar work.
Perihelion’s poppiest moments are on “The Dark” and “Days into Night,” with the former featuring Hannah Sumner’s celestial vocals over an ever-winding synth loop and strings by The Resonance Collective. “Days into Night” features a memorable hook from Jae Soto and muted plucks from Saran. As close to “conventional” as one will find on the album, these songs would have lead to a lot of confused faces if people still bought records for a single.
The title track has some fun with vocal loops before featuring Joshua De La Victoria’s prog shredding on a madcap second half. “A Song With No Words” is a much-welcomed chilled-out groover due to Aberdeen’s Brian Plautz, who plays a sunset-worthy saxophone and produces the track. The record finishes with “Thicc,” a track that works around a voicemail loop from Sumner, and starts off sounding similar to Vulfpeck but eventually hits too hard with the brostep transition, as well as 8-bit closer “Cytherean.”
Perihelion is a substantial debut full of extraordinary moments, and there is no questioning the writing, arranging, and playing chops from Adam Neely and Shawn Crowder, and Simon Grove’s crisp production suits the project. I’m just hoping for something more cohesive the next time around, as the record blends ideas that are maybe better suited for multiple projects. The most certain thing is that you will not hear any other album like Sungazer’s Perihelion this year.
Perihelion is self-released and available now.