Release Date: Feb 5, 2016
Record label: Fat Possum
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
With their debut LP, Sunflower Bean march to an offbeat fitting room with armfuls of genres to try on for size, and manage to look good in most of it. From blissful, tangled-pop, slapdash, fuzzed-out riffs and even a shot of 70s metal, the New York-trio have accomplished a sound that finds its own niche. Front-duo Julia Cumming and Nick Kivlen and drummer Jacob Faber were all in their teens at the time of Human Ceremony’s recording, and the album’s spunky shape-shifting is a metaphor.
The Brooklyn-based trio Sunflower Bean (singer/guitarist Nick Kivlen, singer/bassist Julia Cumming, and drummer Jacob Faber) play with the fire and enthusiasm of youth. Their debut album, Human Ceremony, is full of rampaging psych pop, sticky sweet indie pop and some moments that seem like a mashup of X, Blondie, Tame Impala, and the Blake Babies. For such a young band, they are in full control of their sound.
The rock’n’roll cycle spins its way back to the halcyon days of 2010 on Sunflower Bean’s debut. Everything from the group’s “Brooklyn-based” background, to the phrases “DIY” and “hotly tipped” that often suffix their name seem to have spawned from a blogpost from six years ago, while much of their debut is influenced by Pitchfork’s recent relics – Diiv, MGMT, Tame Impala, Real Estate and the label Captured Tracks. This is not a lazily retrogressive record however: its melodies burst with the fidgety energy of youth and ambition.
Listening to the debut album from Brooklyn trio Sunflower Bean is a bit like flipping through some smart stoner's impeccably refined record collection. All the correct drone-rock references are present: the Velvet Underground at their beachiest, the Autobahn liftoff of vintage Seventies Kraut-rock, the Eighties drug-punk of Spaceman 3, recent garage-grind aesthetes like Ty Segall, and the entire college-jangle canon from early R.E.M. to the Smiths to Real Estate and beyond.
Forged in the crucible that is the Brooklyn music scene, Sunflower Bean are one of the more enigmatic groups in the borough. According to an interview with NME, the band was born out of a feeling of frustration with “shoegaze, post-rock, and weirdo noise bands who took everything so seriously” and wanting to shake it up by exploring “clichés that are so underdone they’d stopped being clichés. ” After a couple years of opening up for nearly every act in every DIY space in Brooklyn, Sunflower Bean have let loose their debut record, Human Ceremony, a psych pop record that speeds along at such an efficient clip you’d swear it was the work of a veteran act.
Truth be told, it was difficult to care when a prolific SXSW put Sunflower Bean on the tongue of seemingly every critic in existence. If there's an underground music niche that isn't in need of another poster band, it's psychedelic rock. Yet on debut LP, Human Ceremony, the Brooklyn trio wrong-foot any cynics. .
Being a teenager is all about testing out different personalities to figure out who you really are. This kind of development is all over Sunflower Bean’s full-length debut, Human Ceremony. It's most evident in the frenetic variety of the album, as the Brooklyn trio—singer/bassist Julia Cumming, singer/guitarist Nick Kivlen, and drummer Jacob Faber, all in their teens when they recorded it—try on genres throughout 11 tracks.
Don’t be put off by the name – Sunflower Bean aren’t some mediocre airy-fairy, head-in-the-clouds hippie folk band. They’re actually a trio of almost and early 20-somethings from Brooklyn with a rich interest in the heritage of New York’s alternative music scene, as well as a little penchant for swirling psychedelic musical musings. As such, this debut album is as much Jefferson Airplane as it is The Velvet Underground, with a few Black Sabbath-esque riffs thrown in for good measure.
Formed at school, Sunflower Bean have been going for years, so they’re not exactly a flash-in-the-pan attempt to weave madness out of guitars and whatever else they can get their hands on. But their first work has this impression. ‘Human Ceremony’ gives in to intuition. Whether they’re ramming home psychedelic sludge in ‘Wall Watcher’ or forging dreamy melody out of lighter parts, like in ‘Easier Said’, they’re shunning perfectionism for a gut feeling.
On February 28, 2015, Sunflower Bean opened for Wolf Alice at the now defunct Brooklyn Night Bazaar in Greenpoint. Though the two bands were perfect compliments of each other, their sounds were noticeably different – Sunflower Bean was easily the hardest rocking, loudest, and most energetic of the two acts. Complete with screams, fuzzed out guitar solos and a mosh pit, it was easy to see why the NYC act was one of the best rising bands in the country.
Despite what many would have you believe, variety and cohesiveness are not mutually exclusive ideas in music. An artist could create a sonically varied album and still tie it together with certain thematic elements. It’s a very difficult thing to pull off convincingly, but it’s possible. Credit, then, should go to Sunflower Bean for trying to be ambitious with Human Ceremony, but its ambition seems to rise from confusion.
Sometimes a gimmick — or call it a concept — is just what a band needs to outdo itself. Infamous Stringdusters is a virtuoso five-man string band, rooted in bluegrass but ready to stretch, that made its name on the Americana circuit. Its new album, “Ladies and Gentlemen” (The Infamous ….
Guitar bands have a tricky question to answer when they make their debut album, namely should they release a live-sounding record or take advantage of the possibilities of the recording studio? On Human Ceremony, Sunflower Bean have shrewdly gone for a combination of the two. Yet even though they recorded it in just seven days, there are layers of nuance in the songs that stretch their musical language beyond the bombastic riffery of their earlier material into something much more accomplished and varied. It’s unashamedly retro in parts, but feels fresh enough to sound like a modern take on the Nuggets compilations.
You know it’s a good year when there’s not one, but two jazz releases making the rounds outside of jazz circles for the right reasons. We miss great music all the time, and three months into 2016, there’s already subversive hip-hop, classic-rock revival and navel-gazing indie worth catching ….
Easy to tell Sunflower Bean recorded debut LP Human Ceremony in their teens. Referencing Dylan, Kahlo, and Dalí on the album art, and employing blunt influences (Black Sabbath, David Bowie) in their music, the Brooklyn trio depict themselves as the try-hard hipster kids in class. Flooding with existential crisis ("I just don't know my place in the world"), their angst comes accentuated by random stadium rock breaks ("Creation Myth") and fuzzy vox ("Come On").