Easier Said is available at:
The album, Human Ceremony is available at:
‘Night Music’; Rock; Psychedelia
Brooklyn/Long Island/Manhattan, U.S.A.
This Kind of Feeling
I Was Home
I Want You to Give Me Enough Time
Oh, I Just Don’t Know
Space Exploration Disaster
I wanted to review Brooklyn’s Sunflower Bean- without commission or request- because…
their music and way of working really fascinated me. One of those bands that are doing well in the U.S.- and gaining plaudit and name in the U.K.- they have escaped the ears of some. It is not often I feature an ‘established’ act- those that have a reputation and cache to their name- and stray away from the unsigned/fledgling acts. The group’s album Human Ceremony has just been named Rough Trade East’s ‘Album of the Month’- an honour for the New York-based clan. It seems like their stunning blend of Punk, ‘Night Music’ and Indie has translated to us here and is gaining a lot of steam. In spite of the recognitions and honorifics: Sunflower Bean deserves a wider platform and more exposure than they are receiving. I shall come to that issue soon, but for now, wanted to raise a few points. Hearing Sunflower Bean- who cover Long Island, Brooklyn and Manhattan in their D.N.A.- give me a chance to get back into New York music; mixing older psychedelia and Punk with new lo-fi; bands that are making impressions in their home countries. Great as it can be digging the music that emanates from the U.K.; going to the U.S. and seeking the best from their: That is a pleasure and treat I do not get to do too often. It is axiomatic saying London has variability and a range of different musicians coming out. This cultural mix and genre-fusing ambition have made the city synonymous with daring sounds and stick-in-the-brain artists. It is a claim and fact that has resulted in so many bright and agile musicians locating to the capital and staking their claim in the world of music. If anything, New York is even more diverse and qualitative. Given its sheer size and spread- a state that is America’s fourth most populous: Behind Florida, Texas and California- it is not a shock so many great musicians play around New York. Whilst California has always been a fond source of U.S. music- a state I go to when I need to discover something warm and engaging- New York has that much-needed grit and excitement. Maybe living up to stereotypes of the states- California warm and sunny; New York more dangerous and edgy- I know New York will always produce music of the highest order. Among a busy and no-room-to-maneuver state; I am always surprised musicians can come up with such natural and un-suffocated sounds. Sunflower Bean is not a band who sounds hustled and strained: Their songs have room to breathe and a terrific amount of focus and ambition. Before I continue onto my next points, let me introduce the band to you:
Jacob Faber (drums)
Julia Cumming (vox/bass)
Nick Kivlen (vox/guitar)
“In their first year, Sunflower Bean has made waves coast to coast. Julia Cumming (vox/bass), Nick Kivlen (vox/guitar), and Jacob Faber (drums), draw from a wealth of rugged lo-fi sounds, adapting the heroic charisma of VU psychedelia and Black Sabbath’s dark rock to fit their own generation’s drowsy ethos”.
Having formed a few years ago, the trio quickly established themselves as one of America’s hottest propositions. Not just confined to New York and the east of America: The guys have played all across the land and taken their music internationally. Recently, they traveled to France and played a gig there (playing Lille on the 13th) before coming to the U.K. – Edinburgh and Manchester were covered and conquered. The band is preparing for extensive dates across the U.S. – Canada is part of the itinerary too- and it seems they have little time for rest. When confronted with a band- and deciphering why they are so popular- I de-compartmentalise their sounds and deconstruct them a little. It always baffles my brain when certain bands do so well and gain (undeserved, to my view) credibility and gig slots. There are too many artists pandering to critical expectations and taking risks in music. The Indie-cum-Alternative bands that toss-off second-rate replications of existing bands- the same suspects are often subjected to piracy- are those culpable. Whilst it is great hearing a band with passion and desire: That should not come at the expense of originality and surprise. Sunflower Bean has their influences and idols but cunningly mix lo-fi Punk with darker strands and Heavy Metal influences- ensuring at heart they remain accessible and embracing. This is a trio that packs plenty of punch without drawing too much blood. They have humanitarianism and fight; they possess contrasts and complexities- all found in music that begs for deep study and repetition. Having enthralled and seduced America- no easy feat; even if you live there- they have deftly intoxicated Europe and threaten to colonise and dominate the globe. Whilst they have no plans to relent touring and rest anytime soon- their next few months are going to be very busy- it would be great to see the band take some time out and relax. Human Ceremony will be dropped soon to the public: An 11-track album that boasts wonderful titles (Space Exploration Disaster for one) and plenty of nuance. The album has already gained pre-released thumbs-up- including that shout-out from Rough Trade East– and come highly recommended. Having just played Brighton last night- not sure if they are sticking around the U.K. for a bit longer- the trio is excited to see what their (first) album does. It has gathered some respect and applause so far: It is only a matter of time before the group plays our biggest festivals- ‘Reading and Leeds‘ seems ready-made for them! Being so tightly bonded and electrifying- it sounds like the guys have been playing with each other for decades- you cannot escape the immediacy and intensity of their music. For those scared off by the pronouns, verbs and damned right proclamations: Here is a group that welcomes the listener in and sucks them into a wonderful place. Recalling memories of ‘70s Punk with of-the-moment Rock- via some Led Zeppelin and The Velvet Underground- and you have a group that is ready for the big leagues.
Human Ceremony is the first full-length release from Sunflower Bean. Although the band has released E.P.s in the past- Show Me Your Seven Secrets was a 6-track cut- they have shown growth and evolution from their initial days.
Bread was the first release from the band- recording in a home studio in 2014- and showcases some atmospheric and far-off vocals. Dreamy and drugged- embers of The Velvet Underground echo- you have a song that has that under-produced/D.I.Y. charm and a clear signature sound. Recalling elements of other bands- but never too obvious with the influence- the track gets inside the brain and subverts expectations. Changing course and pace at will; the song starts to race before the halfway mark. Tender notes and sprinting strings melt with cosmic interjections and echoed notes- creating something dizzying and intoxicating. The band employs few lyrics- the 2nd half of the song is largely compositional- and creates mood and fascination with the instrumentation.
Show Me Your Seven Secrets was unveiled early last year and saw the band at their moist ambitious. Past E.P.s- 2014’s release, 2013 was a 2-track cut- were concise and short insights into the band’s current ideas. Show Me’ boasted 6 tracks and expanded their sound across a mini-album. 2013 starts with racing strings and an air of excitability. Carefully deployed words- lines come with an ellipsis after them to begin- leads to more heavy and hot projection. The band showcases their unique dynamics and discipline- changing pace at a moment’s notice to evoke the biggest reaction- and seem at their most confident. 2013 is a song that contains so many details and ideas. Futuristic and retro. at once- a song that looks back but seems like a prophecy- it has a quirkiness and charm that is hard to escape. Tame Impala starts with some hooking bass before going straight into some devilish and attacking guitar. Focused and intense; the vocal has such intensity and ferocity. Reminding me of Alison Mosshart’s most febrile performances- that same sort of thrust-and-parry can be detected- the song is darker than 2013. Head-spinning, psychotropic and teeth-baring; there are (again; like other releases) shades of Velvet Underground and bit of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. The blend of Rock and Avant-Garde fuses beautifully in a song that draws you in and demands a reaction. Ok Mr. Man begins with echo and intrigue before expanding into light-seeking and impassioned compositional charge. Whilst the vocal seems to be mixed quite low to start- playing the lesser role in the early exchanges- the band demonstrate their innovativeness and spectacular musicianship. A composition that promotes so many images and possibilities- it drives and saunters down a desert highway- there is mysticism, heart and darkness in a song that showcases the full talents of Sunflower Bean.
Human Ceremony is not such a gamble given the past of a band that gets stronger and more confident. Show Me Your Seven Secrets was met with critical acclaim and showed they could remain enthralling and essential when spreading their sound out. The fear was- given this is the first album from them- whether they would sustain interest over 11 tracks. Sunflower Bean has so much inventiveness and talent they make sure no two songs sound the same. Human Ceremony is not a grand-natured departure or about-face: The band keep their core sound intact and show the same confidence and quality they have always boasted. What is new and unexpected is how assured and nerve-free the trio is across the album. There are no weak songs and if anything, the New York band showcase their most nuanced and stunning work to date. Whether it is the touring and honing- having spent so much time on the road- you get tight and stunning songs that remain in the memory and compel the listener to come back time and time again.
Easier Said kicks off with light and breezy strings that evoke summer and something quite pure. Relaxed and charming; the listener is gently brought unto proceedings. It is hard to bring other bands and sounds into mind (when considering that introduction) but you get a little drop of ‘60s Pop and Avant-Garde inside Fleetwood Mac-esque vibes. Once those effusive and serotonin notes have completed, our heroine comes to the microphone. Allowing her voice to stretch and campaign: Early words see her “on the outside” trying to look in. It seems (she) needs to prove herself and has been cast aside for some reason. Wanting to demonstrate she is in the “right mind”; the brain instantly gets to worth uncovering the origins of the lyric. Maybe broad interpretation steers towards love and relationship quandaries. Maybe our heroine has encountered some fragmentation in a relationship: Trying to get onto an equal footing; there’s anxiety and desire coming through in the voice. Needing that justice and opportunity- to prove herself and redress the balance- unafraid “to take the blame”; you get more intrigue and fascination. She will take a chance and make things right; concede some defeat and blame perhaps. Every word and line bring new images and possibilities to the mind. I find myself looking at the issues of love and relations as each sentiment emerges. Backed by lilting and graceful strings- that have that summertime Pop and passion to them- the vocal continues to impress and get inside the brain. Never too haunted or pressing; that control and consideration ensure the listeners are never lead in one direction. Each person has a chance to interpret as they feel and arrive at their own conclusions. I scanned Google to see if there were any articles about the song- to see where the origins lie. The first couple of verse are: “You try hard to see but I’m lying/On the outside/Give me one last chance to see it/I’m in the right mind/Act so tough, make you prove/Don’t be afraid to see it through/And I’m not scared to take your place/It’s not your fault, emancipate”. From those lines, I get the idea of love but also of music itself. The lines regarding “take your place” and “emancipate” give me insights into a band that are rebelling against the tried-and-tested.
It is the curiosity and obliqueness of the lines that will probably intrigue the listener most. Whilst the composition-and-vocal combination has dreaminess and Pop sentiments- perhaps the more serene and enchanted the band have been for some time- it is those lines that create the biggest impressions. When the chorus arrives, our heroine attests she “heard you right the first time”. At every turn, I grow more curious as to the reality and inspiration for these lines. My mind is split between relationship battles and something rooted in the music business. Perhaps Sunflower Bean is fed up with the tired bands that all project the same sound- that blend of Post-Grunge and Alternative. Being more developed and original; there is that push against the stolid nature of music and the necessity for boldness. Perhaps bands make proclamations about moving on/growing: It is easier said than done when it comes to execution. The best songs have depth and are never too obvious in their meanings. Easier Said digs deeps and allows the listener to transpose themselves into the mix and extrapolate their own conclusions. Whether I am near-the-mark- or some way off- it will be interesting to see what inspired the song. When the next verse swings in; you get the same heartfelt vocal and spirited composition- keeping those warm vibes flowing- and more pieces of the puzzle. “Trying to ride by our cabin/It’s in my head/Should have just stayed home when I’d rather/Be alone instead” are lines that take my interpretations to other avenues and my thoughts start to stray away from love- more firmly rooted in something music-based or creative. In spite of the near-ethereal nature of the voice; anger and accusation linger in the delivery. “You’re getting old/So act your age” is delivered with the necessary amount of directness and fatigue. Every new revelation has that unfettered and natural smile that keeps the song uplifted and positive. The song’s core and title is a relevant one to all of us. It is easier said than done when it comes to promises and changes. Whether representing a friend, lover or music peers: You get a track that has a lot of truth and relevance to it. By the closing stages, more truth and insight is revealed. Mistakes are being made (the same old ones) and it is getting quite sad- certain patheticness pervades throughout. Buoyed by the light-seeking and Lush-inspired strings; the band unify for one final push.
Easier Said might be a red herring when it comes to Human Ceremony. Reviewers and press have noted how light and airyated Easier Said appears- contrasting their most recent work and hardness. Influenced by ‘60s and ‘70s Pop; you have a number that shows new sides of Sunflower Bean whilst keeping their core firm. Backed by tremendous production- that allows every element to be heard and shine- the trio sound more urgent and addictive than ever before. A beautiful composition and stunning vocal are only the start of things. Dig deep and Easier Said reveals new layers and gold with every listen. Whatever the truth of the song- an enigma I may never crack- it is exciting to speculate and imagine. Human Ceremony is an album that is defined by range and variation: Easier Said is a perfect example of the quality and passion Sunflower Bean possess. The confidence that is lacking from some bands is compensated in the ranks of the New York trio. Few bands sound as elemental and assured as Sunflower Bean. Easier Said has hints of ’80s Blondie with some U.K. Indie: A concoction of genres and decades that hangs together supremely. A stunning glimpse into their forthcoming album: Make sure you involve yourself in the beauty of Easier Said.
Human Ceremony is an album that comes with expectations and speculations. After amassing loyal fans and attracting the ear of the media- their previous E.P.s have all been greeted with near-universal approval- many wonder how the band with adapt to a full-length release. Would their established and unique sound become labored over the course of 11 songs? Would the guys betray their core- in the face of rising popularity- and go with something safer and more ‘mainstream’? Thank goodness the trio have answered both questions with a resounding f*** off. If anything, the New York trio sounds as urgent and meaningful as ever. The best moments of Human Ceremony– there are many of them- are focused and assured. No song runs too long and by the end of the album; the listener will be asking for more. Bringing in new lyrical inspiration and fresh confidence- the extensive touring has honed them and shows in their tight compositions and assuredness- you have an album that explodes with brilliance and potential. Our favourite new band have not sacrificed their integrity and intuitions and replaced it with something vanilla and watered-down. Finding gold and new beauty in each number; fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Those who have followed Sunflower Bean from the beginning will find much to love in their new album. What is new- and will bring in fresh faces for sure- if how current the music sounds. Whilst there are those embers of Zeppelin and other idols: Every moment is so gripping and pure it does not confine itself to any particular group or genre. Open and honest; layered and complex: These are the qualities that make Human Ceremony a much-heralded creation. I would elucidate- perhaps an album review at a later juncture? – although Easier Said is a perfect insight into an album that will firmly place Sunflower Bean on the map. Before wrapping proceedings up; coming back to my original points would seem pertinent. Gleaning information from interviews the band has conducted- the guys recently chatted to Paste– and you get wisdom and honesty from a group who know exactly where they want to be. Whilst talking about the mortality of creative peak- they explained that artists and directors get better with age; musicians seem to hit their stride younger- they seem very down-to-earth and realistic. Music is so demanding and cut-throat- the group wondered whether they would have a chance to play if their album fell short; not a fate they should contemplate- yet Sunflower Bean seems unlikely to fail. This trio constantly evolves and grows- taking influence from modern artists like Tame Impala in addition to older idols- and write with contrasts and human emotions firmly in mind.
One of the reasons I raised a point (up top in this review) about their inimitable blend- the lo-fi Punk and ‘70s Rock- is relevant to the band’s creation and sound. In 2012, there was a lot of Post-Grunge/Art-Noise bands playing- all sounding the same; none that inspired- and directionless-ness and fatigue around Brooklyn. Straying from that mould; Sunflower Bean took the heart and soul of Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin: Transformed it into something modern and unique. The band themselves have already started penning new material- perhaps another album will appear some way down the track?- and are passionate and hungry to get their music into the ether. With New York’s reputation as the doyenne of music- the finest and most splendid bands hail here- I am not shocked Sunflower Bean have done so well. They have seen/been put off by the rather predictable sound of 2012- that need to recapture a past movement with no imagination- and displayed the best traits of the state. Taking guidance from their heroes and influencers- the Rock gods and Krautrock artists of the ‘70s- and you have sensational music that is constantly engaging and inspiring from beginning to end. I am sure Human Ceremony will do a roaring trade upon its official release. The fact it has already picked up adulation in the U.K. bodes well for potential festival call-ups. So many people are fed up with the samey bands who headline our biggest festivals- Coldplay, rather predictably, have been announced as headliners for Glastonbury (*sigh*). I do not know who will headline ‘Reading and Leeds’– probably Muse or someone like that- but there are so many treasures waiting to be discovered. While Sunflower Bean might not (as yet anyway) be main-stage-ready quite yet: I wouldn’t bank against them being festival headliners very soon. If you have not heard Easier Said; ensure you dive into song and prepare to be blown away by one of music’s biggest emerging bands. They have worked hard and relentlessly to ensure their sounds distinguish themselves from the crowd. I cannot wait to get a hold of Human Ceremony and see the band in the flesh. As they prepare to head back to the U.S. – a restless and tiring tour schedule awaits them- it will give the New York trio a chance to showcase the new material and gain feedback. For those who feel depressed with the under-ambitious nature of some bands- who seem stuck in a rut and rudderless- ensure you give Sunflower Bean proper attention. Never ones to disappoint; their music digs deep and will take you somewhere…
YOU will never want to leave.
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