Album Review: Sunflower Bean – Twentytwo in Blue

Album artwork for 'Twentytwo in Blue' by Sunflower Bean

Sunflower Bean come of age on their honest – and hopeful – second album ‘Twentytwo in Blue’.

We all celebrate the passing of the years in different ways. Some of us have a party, some of us eat too much cake and some of us sob quietly into a glass of wine. Sunflower Bean made an album.

The New York Trio – Julia Cumming (bass and vocals), Jacob Faber (drums) and Nick Kivlen (guitar and vocals) – are releasing their second album ‘Twentytwo in Blue’ (out on 23rd March via Lucky Number) when all members of the band will be 22 years old. This also comes almost two years and two months after the release of their critically acclaimed 2016 debut album ‘Human Ceremony’. And what a way it is to celebrate the maturation of a band that has been playing together since their high school days.

‘Twentytwo in Blue’ opens with ‘Burn It’ – a smouldering and snarling glam-rock statement of intent for the rest of the album. It’s an incendiary start that is only tempered by the swooning ‘I Was A Fool’ – with the echo of Cumming singing the repetition of “All I heard was silence” sounding staggeringly similar to Stevie Nicks while Kivlen takes the role of Lindsey Buckingham. Sunflower Bean aren’t afraid of wearing their influences on their sleeves and here they go from T. Rex satin shirts to Fleetwood Mac layers of chiffon with impressive ease. ‘I Was A Fool’ sounds so much like ‘Dreams’ it hurts and I’m not sure there are many bands that could pull that off.

The dreamy pop continues on ‘Twentytwo’, with the layering of Cumming’s vocals and the retro sound of the arrangement giving it a real Abba-esque feel. The lyrics reflect on the impact of social expectations – “If I could do it, I’d stay young for you” – but, despite the pressures, offer resilience and refusal when Cumming sings “I do not go quietly, into the night that calls me, even when I’m alone”. If ‘TwentyTwo’ provides the protest, ‘Crisis Fest’ turns it into a revolution and turns Sunflower Bean into rock star rabble rousers – “We brought you into this place, you know we can take you out” Cumming threatens and I believe her. This is power-pop at its best and demands to be played over and over. The echoing and haunting chorus of ‘Memoria’, where Cumming is vulnerable but philosophical – “The past is the past for a reason” – leaves my skin pricked with goosebumps.

‘Human For’ is one of the stand-out tracks on this album with its psychedelic swirl of guitars and the twisted recording of some kind of sermon. Cumming insists – “I don’t need your religion, I don’t need your protection. I don’t need your fear…I need the sound of the drum” and the drums duly oblige. If you’re a fan of Wolf Alice, you’ll adore this.

While Cumming’s vocals – light and breathy on their debut release – have a new strength and depth on this album, the flexibility of Kivlen’s vocals shouldn’t be underestimated. The start of ‘Any Way You Like’ could be Marc Almond while ‘Sinking Sands’ is all Beck as he sings “he was thinking in comic sans”. His ability to shift his vocal style, as well as his guitar sound, adds to an album that distils the best elements of so many genres and influences – I can hear The Who, Heart, The Pretenders, REM and The Strokes to name only a few – and arrives at pure and addictive power-pop.

‘Human Ceremony’ is an impressive debut but ‘Twentytwo in Blue’ is a focused and formidable second album. ‘Human Ceremony’ felt like it was made to be played live in clubs, while ’Twentytwo in Blue’ is fit for stadiums. It’s not all about musical style either, there is plenty of lyrical substance – with messages of hope and empowerment, not only for the daily trials of life but also the turbulent times we’re living in. It makes sense when you hear that this album was made between December 2016 and December 2017.

“2017- we know, Reality’s one big sick show” snarls Cumming on ‘Crisis Fest’ and at a time when there is plenty to be blue about Sunflower Bean’s power-pop is a ray of hope.

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