With their debut LP, Sunflower Bean march to a 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 fitting metaphor. Every teenager will go through phases, trying on modified versions of their own personalities and rekindling relationships with previous ones, ultimately depending on the mould they want to shape themselves into. Sunflower Bean do this with their debut LP, and although influences older than their own individual years protrude from each track, their optimism and enthusiasm helps revitalise their output.
A big chunk of Human Ceremony is percolated through a psychedelic filter, and from the outset with the title track, a muddled guitar lick wraps itself around a kaleidoscopic bass groove. Cumming’s heavenly voice floats like a hot air balloon above it before Kivlen’s lackadaisical vocals keep it from wafting into a different stratosphere. The crunchy garage-fuzz of Come On follows, showing early on the band’s intention to churn out songs without allowing the album to acclimatize to a single veneer.
Optimism and enthusiasm can go a long way towards it, but the renovation of such an array of brazenly retro sounds can be attributed largely to a very astute rhythm section. Faber’s control over an authoritative but placating snare drum is exceptional, and the studio mixing of his parts in general is exemplary. Coupled with Cumming’s hugely hospitable basslines, the foundations are laid for Kivlen’s multi-faceted fretwork to anchor itself easily.
Of all the genres that Sunflower Bean do trial, they are at their best when the guitars are jangling and Cumming’s voice is allowed to float right to the end of its tether. This is proven with the album’s stand out track, Easier Said. Cumming takes on sole vocal duties here, and takes us to a place of pure ecstasy, soothing us with a purposeful but delicate dose of pop paradise.
Human Ceremony is an instinctive record, with the band more than happy to act on an impulse. The enthusiasm of the band is infectious, always remaining grounded but delightfully exploring their own infinite limitations. It will be interesting to see if Sunflower Bean refine their sound into something a little less capricious in a future release, but their willingness to act on their own spectrum of intuition is a huge contributor to the strength of their debut.
[FIRST PUBLISHED ON NO RIPCORD]