by tilly o’connor (@tilly_oconnor)
Following their somewhat disjointed 2016 debut Human Ceremony, Sunflower Bean are back with the hugely hyped Twentytwo in Blue.
Opening with 70’s chant rock tune Burn It, the New York trio set the tone for the record – old style riffs coupled with a millennial understanding of the world. Vocalist and bassist Julia Cummings shines over the music, which feels somewhat stale. Nonetheless, as first tracks go, it’s a strong one. It will most likely be going down well on their current UK tour.
The real standouts on this album are the songs that manage to marry the bands influences with stunning fresh takes on pop music. This is illustrated perfectly on Memoria, which knowingly includes the lyrics “The past is the past for a reason”. Guitars and backing vocals glow and ooze like some of Fleetwood Mac’s best work. Their influence is ever-present in Sunflower Bean’s discography but its most obvious on I Was A Fool.
The track kicks off with one of the coolest bass riffs on the record – seriously, grab your best headphones and have a listen. In the dreamy lament for a past relationship, Cummings is joined on vocals by guitarist Nick Kivlen. There’s a back and forth between the two that plays out like two sides of a story (not unlike fellow trio NDUBZ, however this could merely be a coincidence). His lines include a fleeting religious reference: “I was a fool who lost his herd”. Their previous work has included copious amounts of biblical imagery; however, TTIB departs from this, explicitly so in the lyric “I don’t need your religion” on Human For.
The band regularly succeed in providing sweet sonic escapism for those of us not living in the states, although on tracks such as Puppet Strings and Crisis Fest their efforts turn to political commentary. The latter is explicitly about the US’ current administration as well as things such as the effects of student debt. The topics are tackled head on, but this comes across cheesy at times. From the “no, no, no”s of the chorus, to “2017 we know, reality’s one big sick show”, the lyrics seem lazy. This is countered in part by Cumming’s earnest delivery, but it’s often overshadowed by predictable bluesy guitar.
The title track Twenty Two is musically mature compared to other songs on the album. Lyrically, however, some of the rhyming form sits sticky and noticeably in the ear. The repetitiveness is jarring – “We could live inside a place, where we’d never have to face, all the people who disgrace, us and make us hide our face”. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as this nursery rhyme style prose is reserved for the beginning of the song. The chorus climbs and cascades in terms of metaphor and literary references, making it a beautiful song about reaching adulthood.
Twentytwo in Blue is a conscious record. Its glittery music harks back to simpler, summery times, but the ideas brought forward keep your feet firmly on the ground and looking to the future. With Julia Cumming’s vocals standing tall on top of the Sunflower Bean human pyramid the band look to have found their sound. This record will likely cement them as important players in the otherwise vague pop rock genre.