Sungrazer, Mirador: Like the Sea

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At eight minutes and utilizing a structure that harnesses verses and choruses while also playing into an overall build and still finding room for open jamming in the middle, “Sea” is an easy candidate for Mirador’s high point. The atmosphere of the album already set by the opening duo, “Sea” is immersive and the band knows it. After “Mountain Dusk” on the self-titled so carefully tied Sungrazer’s tones to a specific landscape imagery, it’s surprising they’re equally suited to the oceanic expanse and whalesong guitar runs of “Sea”’s midsection, but they are – one wonders whether the next studio outing will carry them skyward to complete a “land, sea, air” trilogy. Haagmans’ naturalistic tone rises to prominence in the mix, and the call and response between he and Smeets in the chorus proves worthy of a first-listen sing-along, and no less so when it returns after the jam and Smeets dons a megaphone. Subtle piano (I think; that could be another layer of effected guitar) adds to the ending’s push, and when you think the song has crested, the last 20 seconds cycle through the riff one more time, and Sungrazer remind that no matter how far they may digress, they’re in complete control. It’s beautiful.

In answering, the five-minute “Goldstrike” has no easy task, but Sungrazer wisely place it at the end of Side A of Mirador nonetheless, mirroring the dynamic between the more expansive “Wild Goose” and “Octo” earlier and keeping the smoothness of transitions from one song to the next paramount (“Octo” wouldn’t have worked to close out the record’s first half, and “Goldstrike” wouldn’t have worked as the second track – plus, the self-titled also had an instrumental second cut and there’s something to be said for the several correlations between the two records apart from the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”). As probably the most straightforward cut on Mirador, “Goldstrike” provides grounding accessibility right where it’s most needed, and keeps the earthy feel of the prior tracks without totally sacrificing the jamming – the ending of the song devolves into a spontaneous exploration led by Smeets, in which Haagmans has just enough time for a few choice runs before the conclusion, in which Mulders cuts out early and lets the ringing notes have the last word. It’s a key difference between the CD and vinyl listening experiences that “Goldstrike” is the centerpiece in the track list of the former and the Side A finale of the latter, but once “Behind” commences unfolding itself, there’s little question where Sungrazer’s emphasis is intended.

“Behind,” at 13:48, is not only Mirador’s longest track, but also the most open structurally. Verses appear throughout, and shades of “Somo” from Sungrazer in Smeets’ vocals add context to the peaceful beginning of the song, and the soft, Colour Haze-style guitars soon bring a pastoral spaciousness to the instrumental stretch. The song is patient and hypnotic almost to the point of sleepiness, but after four minutes, heavier guitar and bass drive the next movement and manage to recapture the attention. Sungrazer have a hard time balancing gradueur with the natural vibe of their sound, but they do it, cycling through quiet/loud parts twice over the course but adding more motion in the song’s second half thanks to tom runs from Mulders that underscore SmeetsYawning Man-ish desert hues. It’s the band at their most jam-based, and even though they return to a chorus in the last five minutes of the song and end heavier than not, they’ve sacrificed the clarity of a song like “Goldstrike” or “Sea” and changed the mood of the album. The experiment in shifting focus isn’t wholly unsuccessful – in most listens, the ease with which Mirador plays out won’t have “Behind” raise eyebrows one way or the other – and if Sungrazer are quick to pushing themselves to try new songwriting tactics and this is the result, then they should be well set to refine the process on the next one.

Plus, the last few minutes of “Behind” are genuinely catchy, so even if the distances Smeets, Haagmans and Mulders are journeying prove too far for one’s attention span, they still show a keen ear for crafting rounded material. Mulders begins the mostly-instrumental title track, which despite its Echoplex guitar, repetitive bass, overriding effects and marching snare ghost notes, proves more cohesive than not. Sungrazer aren’t the first band to experiment on the second half of their album, and the first four minutes of “Mirador” provide fluid jamming, but the riffier, vocalized next three – dominated by the guitar in a way much of Mirador is not – shows that the band has not completely abandoned structure or verse/chorus traditionalism. They return to the jam to provide some measure of comedown from the apex of the song, and closer “34 & More,” with guest vocals, lounge-type applause as the solo begins following the second verse and a generally off-the-cuff feel allows Sungrazer to exit Mirador on a more lighthearted note, neither taking themselves too seriously nor indulging any further than they already have. The lines “You’re one of a kind/I like your behind and more,” being the last said on the album, I don’t think anyone’s about to accuse the band of lacking in good nature, myself included. Haagmans’ bass seems to want to hold on longer than it does, but the song caps with class, all three players going out quietly and (roughly) in unison.

Between the self-titled and Mirador which builds on it, the three-piece has very quickly placed itself among the elites in European heavy psychedelia. The melodic consciousness and will for discovering the limits of chemistry between players sets Sungrazer apart from most of their peers, and though there are aspects of their sound taken from recognizable stylistic tropes, Smeets, Haagmans and Mulders succeed completely in assimilating them into an individual presentation. Mirador both confirms the potential the first album announced and the anticipation with which it was met, but more than that, it sets Sungrazer up to make the shift from influenced to influential. There’s a lot about Mirador that is perfect for what it wants to be, and that almost always leads to followers trying to capture some of the same magic.

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9 Responses to “Sungrazer, Mirador: Like the Sea”

  1. BOSS 302 says:

    Hey man –

    Great review… Really diggin on these guys A LOT. U have any idea how I can get a hold of their CDs?

  2. MTM says:

    I second that. Anywhere we can pick an album up?

  3. jonnee2001 says:

    good call H.P. I bought this on vinyl on the strength of your reveiw, sounding verrry mellow with the headphones on.

  4. Mike says:

    Here I am–almost 2 years after Sungrazer broke up and almost 4 years since Mirador dropped. I’m just glad I discovered this band, late or not.

    Mirador is the perfect album for just melting into the couch. Two very odd things strike me during every listen:

    1). The loud aggressive parts still seem quiet. Weird, right? The tone of the guitar is fuzzy yet smooth and buttery that even at its hardest and loudest parts, it is still not dominating even with a very aggressive bass tone behind it.

    2). The album feels like one long song to me. I don’t know how else to describe this phenomenon. Check it out and see if you can feel what I’m feeling.

    Anyone know of any similar bands that combine fuzz and psych like this? I’d be interested in hearing bands that may have influenced Sungrazer or come after them.

    • Mats says:

      Try some other europeans:

      Colour Haze
      Motorpsycho
      Rotor
      Dunst
      My Sleeping Karma
      Electric Moon
      Spacelords
      Samsara Blues Experiment
      Spelljammer
      Spectral Haze

      • Mike says:

        Thanks Mats–

        Big fan of Colour Haze and Rotor. MS Karma is cool but doesn’t strike as much of a chord with me. Thanks for recommendations–those Europeans really know how to do it.

  5. Jason says:

    Just found these guys. Wow! Why I am always so late to the party?

    • JJ Koczan says:

      They were great. Sadly they did a split with The Machine after this and that was it before they broke up. So much potential. Their guitarist/vocalist joined a more mellow band after this one called Cigale, but sadly he passed away in 2015.

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