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Music Review: Sunspot – Neanderthal

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Just a few months ago, had anyone asked me whether or not I’d ever heard of a band called Sunspot, I’d have had to say no. That’s not unusual, of course; tucked away here in my little hermit’s cave of a life, I’m sure there are plenty of bands out there that I’ve never heard of. This is why, of course, when one of the editors at Blogcritics mentioned the band and asked if I might be interested in giving them a listen, I said yes.

I’m a hermit, sure, but I try to be an adventurous one. Sometimes.

Sunspot turns out to be this wonderfully talented, smart, witty, and downright fun band that claims Madison, Wisconsin as their home turf, in case you were wondering. Their latest album, Neanderthal, which Mike Huberty (lead vocalist, bassist) graciously sent to me, is just this wonderfully eclectic mash of musician- (and showman-) ship.

In short, it’s a damn righteous hoot!

Set off by the wonderfully funky harmonies and chugging rhythm of “Goodbye Good Guy,” Neanderthal crashes into your eardrums, with a giggle. “Eat Out My Heart,” perhaps my favorite song on the album, continues the trend, as it rides this wonderfully slow-burning melody. Of course, as the song prays to the heavens above that a former love has an ugly boyfriend, works in a carwash, and has allowed the best years of her life to pass her up, there exists a stain of heartbreak on the napkin that playfully hides the mouth telling jokes.

Okay. When broken down and actually written down on the page, the end result is definitely less than fabulous. Maybe there are songs that simply need to be enjoyed instead of analyzed? I think so.

“Neanderthal,” the third (and title) track, is just a wonderfully dark and catchy song, and ably anchors down the bittersweet intentions of the album itself. It’s a feeling that is continued in the lush harmonies of “Power Word, Kill,” as the song describes the achingly devastating power that one word can have, in any relationship.

“Mr. Foff” is, well… I’m not sure how to describe “Mr. Foff,” really. Maybe I should eschew any attempts at being smart and witty, as the song and the wonderfully funky groove that it follows, easily outdoes my every effort. Next up, “Morgan Le Fay” rides upon one of the better bass grooves I’ve heard this year. Smart, tinged with a hint of grittiness, it’s just a great song.

“Ephemeral,” manages to both deserve and reject it’s own name. Coming in at three and a half minutes it might have the necessary length, but the fact that you’ll find yourself constantly humming it to yourself over and over… belies the very thought of it having a short life span. It’s just another good song on a really good album.

Closing things out on Neanderthal is “Viking Funeral,” which is perhaps the most laid-back and moody song on the album. Laced through with some wonderful guitar work by Ben Jaeger, it’s a lovely closing track.

By now, of course, you should have guessed that Neanderthal is an album that I quite enjoyed. Sure, it’s hard to tell when all you have to go on is my enthusiastic cheerleading and yelps of “THIS RULES!” throughout the paragraphs above, but I assure you that it is quite true. I really loved this record.

Unfortunately, even if I played it back to back to back and so forth, the fact still remained that I’ve only gotten to experience eight songs in Sunspot’s repertoire. This wouldn’t do at all, of course. No, I told myself as I paced back and forth before my stereo, I must have more…

And then it hit me, why not simply ask for more?

One week later, after my cunningly deployed plan of emailing Mike Huberty and politely asking (i.e. begging) for a chance to listen to more of Sunspot’s music, there arrived a package on my doorstep that contained all three of their previous albums.

While I’m not going to try and break the world record for “Longest Article/Articulate Babble” by a Blogcritic writer, I do want to tell you about them. While Neanderthal is a wonderful album, you see, it’s not something that just popped into existence all on its own.

Each one of the albums that came before it show the genesis of wit and musicianship that makes up the building blocks of their latest release. Whether it is the chunky earnestness of Cynical’s “Scott Bakula” lamenting that it was simply impossible to be as wonderful and caring as Bakula in his glory days of Quantum Leap, the folly of attempting to prescribe teenage happiness through medications in Loser of the Year’s “Prozac Girl” (also featured in an earlier incarnation on their debut album, Radio Free Earth), the lovely despair that regretfully rides the melody of Radio Free Earth’s “Defeated,” or the swirling loveliness that is Loser of the Year’s title track — it all points to one thing.

Sunspot is no blinding flash-in-the-pan that has managed to catch lightning in a bottle and record a wonderful album. Instead, they are a wonderfully talented band that has worked over the past ten years to hone their craft as well as give themselves time to grow and become the band that they are today.

It’s a shame that more bands don’t get the chance (or time) to grow and mature into their talents, as has Sunspot. It would be an even bigger shame, though, if it managed to happen and nobody was there to applaud.

I’m here, though, clutching my copies of their albums and eagerly awaiting any new release that Sunspot may put out. Hopefully, those of you brave enough to tolerate my usual chaotic and rambling style of writing, can see through my clumsy words and get a sense of my genuine admiration for this band.

A band that I might otherwise have never heard of, had I not pulled my head out of my cave and simply allowed myself to listen.

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