Album Review: Sunflower Bean – Human Ceremony

By Ryan Jameson Weaver

Our music industry moves so fast that a band can come out with something so unique and amazing that it is relevant for a week and then bounces into waves anonymity right after.  Take for example, the last My Bloody Valentine album, MBV, an album 20 years in the making, from a band accredited with popularizing a new genre and seemingly making something unattainable with Loveless.  What with their lead visionary stuck in his OCD auteur compulsions for two decades, self-proclaiming that he traveled through multiple dimensions in his brain and each time came back a different being. Finally realized enough, they had their “break the internet” moment, letting MBV be available for download on their official website, the site quickly crashed within minutes, it was a big deal for a bit, think-pieces abound and wrought with comparisons to their former self, then, other buzz flooded our streams, Yeezus came out, and it was relegated to a snowy February moment.  Sure MBV made some end-of-the year lists, but it didn’t quite have the long standing culture moment it should have had.

Let’s talk about an album that belongs in those waves of anonymity. Sunflower Bean’s recent release Human Ceremony (Fat Possum), certainly shows that they know how to make something sound good. Human Ceremony is filled with eleven songs of bountiful of fuzz riffs that bounce back and forth, guy (Nick Kivlen) and girl (Julia Cumming) alternating style duets, and incessant drum beats (Jacob Faber) are melded into a grandiose kosmiche production style. The collection is quick and light, starting off with track number one: “Human Ceremony”, a crooner that is almost peaking out over the sunlight towards you, announcing themselves in a dreamy desert-like setting, sounding like they just buried their hopes and past in a fire, nodding to their former selves but revving up and looking ahead to their new and strange lifestyle they created. They follow it up along the way with a fast, but cautious deepening of their sound, Cumming’s airy vocals weaving up and down mirrored with Kivlen on the side, with a tight drum-kit like sound and perpetual abrasive guitar noodling.

Highlight, “I Was Home”, track number six, is an explosion of dopamine brain-skittles, it just doesn’t stop hitting you, it rocks out. It’s no secret too, particularly here, they are largely influenced by earlier Tame Impala, most notably “Half Glass Full of Wine” or the swirling continuation of time on “Jeremy’s Storm”.  They even released a single in 2014 titled “Tame Impala”, which is notably an homage to Tame Imapala’s very own pastiche for Led Zeppelin off of Lonersism, which is literally titled “Led Zeppelin”.  The delving into space rock stays apparent, busking from more fast-paced attacks “Well Watcher” to paisley underground track “I Want You To Give Me Enough Time”.  Ultimately we have their coda “Space Exploration Disaster”, their final ode to 2015 in which they get–“far away from the planet”.

Now, let’s recall the band Noah and the Whale for a moment. They were the chosen indie kids of 2009, they had that breakout single “5 Years Time”, a lovely rendition with uke-strumming, whistling, hand clapping cutesy twee.  They took hold and were being heralded as indie-folk saviors during that era, along with Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe, The Head and the Heart etc. What many people initially, and then totally realized, there was never much to them, their lead vocals were generic and only intrinsic to the inclinations of that time.  Kivlen’s vocals here do much of the same, with pretentious Jason Pierce attempts and the fugue of Kivlen’s and Cumming’s hollow neo-psychedelic lyrics, it falls very flat.

The ultimate problem, too, with Human Ceremony, is their turgid lack of veritable sound and unity. Lately everyone loves the psychedelic fuzz (Yuck, Ty Segall, TOY), but unlike those bands, their is no creative direction to it, nor ownership of it, it just sounds right, not is right. The pacing of the album take us from fast, to dreamed out, to fast, to dreamy, and so forth, there is not a unity or progression for any purpose, it just seems like they didn’t want it to sound the same, which in turn makes it sound the same. Human Ceremony, from Sunflower Bean is just that, a bean floating in the the garden of the cold and laborious February, germinating at certain points showcasing a sprouting cornucopia but fundamentally staying in the tundra of the deep winter where it belongs.



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