Sunflower Bean serve up a cheerful slice of pop rock on new LP ‘Twentytwo In Blue’

by tilly o’connor (@tilly_oconnor)rating 7

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.

Best Tracks Of The Week (Oct 30th – Nov 5th)

Contributions from Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler), Ethan Woodford (@human_dis4ster), Sean Hannah (@shun_handsome) Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr)

Pinegrove – Intrepid

Unashamedly raw with an enticing, emotionally gooey centre, the latest track from alt-rock New Jersey outfit is one that feels as tight as it does evocative.

With a wide array of beautiful lyrics as well some perfectly natural performances, Intrepid is certain to nuzzle its way into Pinegrove‘s setlists as well as into the heart of anyone willing enough to risk shedding a few tears.

Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – Spray Paint Love

We gave this song the full review treatment but for the sake of its inclusion, here’s a little line or two: a sultry, sleazy track that proves The Rattlesnakes are still full of venom. Screaming riffs coupled with Bon Scott style lyrics make for a dirty dirty.

Flood Manual – Empathy 

We’ve had some very nice things to say about the Manchester boys’ latest EP but a highlight from that release has to be Empathy: a melodic affair that feels pretty delightful with somewhat harsh guitars being pressed together with the aforementioned lovely singing to create a tasty, punky panini a la Weezer.

Keep yer eyes peeled for Flood Manual

N.E.R.D ft Rihanna – Lemon

The Pharrell Williams fronted project’s first single in seven years is a song for 2017; referencing everything from Donald Trump to memes and sampling viral videos, it’s clear the group has plenty of material to work from that they have missed over the years. While the track doesn’t seem to have a clear focus and changes topics several times, it serves well as a comeback.

Announcing its arrival with a massively catchy beat and Pharrell’s flow oozing with A Tribe Called Quest influences, Lemon is exactly what a comeback single should be. Also can Rihanna just have guest verses on everything from now on? Thanks.

Sunflower Bean – I Was A Fool

While it may not be the band’s 22, A Million transformation, Sunflower Bean has managed to craft a charming little track as they make their Mon + Pop label debut. 

“I think this song is a good example of how we’ve grown as a band, while still staying true to the band that first played together back in high school,” is what Nick Kivlin had to say about I Was A Fool and it’s hard to say he’s wrong: restrained in its production, allowing for some gorgeous vocals to take centre stage, it’s a sign of things to come and a relieving one at that.

Ought – These 3 Things

Tim Darcy spent most of 2015’s Sun Coming Down doing his best Mark E. Smith, so it should surprise no one that These 3 Things finds the American-born Canadian transplant moving on to aping Robert Smith.

An angular, 808-driven affair, These 3 Things tracks Ought shifting their influences from the abrasion of late-‘70s post-punk to the dejection of its mid-‘80s predecessor: goth. With his lyrics bordering on Yeatsian, Darcy discovers purpose at the song’s envoy: “I must remember to dance with you tonight/ I must remember I owe my heart.”

Eera – Reflection of Youth

Fervent but subdued, this closing track from EERA‘s debut is a standout, not just due to the fact it’s the most stripped back of the last. Hushed vocals and a laid back guitar are all that is left to be heard as opposed to the harsher structures she has weaved throughout her first LP offering.

While it may sound pretty light, Reflection of Youth is still utterly dazzling, making sure that listeners go out on a delicious, delicate high rather than a messy finale. 

listen to our picks via our swanky wee playlist, updated weekly: