Twentytwo in blue by Sunflower BeanRelease date: March 23, 2018
Label: Mom and Pop Music
Sunflower Bean’s new album Twentytwo in blue is thus named as the threesome – Nick Kivlen, Jacob Faber and Julia Cumming were all twenty-two when it was made. And the blue, well I guess that refers to their mood whilst making the record, on which the band appear to be staring out at the world through their fingers, with a mixture of embarrassment and bewilderment. The bands first album, 2015’s Human Ceremony was an approachable mix of psychedelic indie rock and shoegaze, but without any of the studied cool, and plenty of fuzzy pop hooks. It was a rejection of what they deemed their native Brooklyn’s anti-rock n’roll posturing, these kids wanted to rock and they wanted to connect, but crucially they were good enough songwriters to do it with strong melodies and heartfelt vocals, rather than winging it with noise and the right attitude.
All that may lead you to imagine the follow up sounding like a cross between, say, My Bloody Valentine and The Hold Steady, but Sunflower Bean have made an unexpected leap towards pop greatness. The latest press photos give the game away to some extent: gone are the scruffy trio of Brooklyn bar hops, to be replaced by a bunch who look like they just got papped leaving a Steely Dan after-party. Lead vocalist/bassist Julia Cumming in particular has transformed into a kohl-eyed, uber-waif in a posh frock, and it is Cumming who is the star of the show for much of the album, her vocals a striking mix of the purity and poise of Harriet Wheeler (The Sundays) and the honeyed tones of Susanna Hoffs
The songs are no less glossy or impressive. Whilst retaining the sunny delight of The Go-Gos, evident on their debut, the band have moved into a more sophisticated address occupied by the likes of Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac and The Bangles in their imperious Different Light phase. Grit is added to the mix by the political nature of some of the songs and by guitarist and co-vocalist Nick Kivlen, who’s fuzzy, slackerish contributions add a sort of Lee Hazlewood vibe to first single ‘I Was A Fool’. That song, and much besides bring a much needed promise of sunshine, with tracks like ‘Burn It’, ‘Sinking Sands’ and ‘Puppet Strings’ possessing a timeless, summer in the city warmth and vivaciousness. The heat turns up and brings the threat of rioting in the streets on ‘Human For’- a series of vocal crescendos over a martial beat as Cumming cries “I need the sound of the drums” and retro news report samples ramp up the air of coming insurrection.
The feeling of a world gone mad is made plain in second single ‘Crisis Fest’, a glam rocker so perky and infectious it runs counter to the darkness of the lyrics where “reality is one big sick show” and “every tragedy has its sad clown”. It’s a neat trick to have made some of the feel good hits of the summer to come, bursting with Bangles-ish hooks and Go-Go’s sass whilst calling for a political coup. You could argue that not since Os Mutantes has anyone made more joyous sounding protest music.
The sadder, mellower moments are equally affecting, with ‘Twentytwo’ an aching piece of old-before-my-time melancholia and ‘Memoria’ a silken swoon of folkish, soft rock, with Cumming’s vocals piled up like a subtle choir of Stevie Nicks clones.
Sunflower Bean have no right to be making music as accomplished and ravishing as this at such a tender age. Twentytwo in blue has provided much needed light in these dark days of so-called Spring and it will continue to bring warmth throughout the year.