Brooklyn trio Sunflower Bean first burst onto the scene in 2016 with their debut full-length record, Human Ceremony, which gave us an abundance of starry-eyed and jangly psych-pop gems, boasting a myriad of retro influences. Now they return with sophomore album Twentytwo in Blue, released March 23rd on Mom + Pop Records. Whilst each band member is still only twenty-two (hence the album title), their latest venture takes a series of rather more polished and mature sonic turns than their debut, encompassing elements of power-pop and 1970s soft rock à la Fleetwood Mac into the mix and taking on a new level of direction and urgency. This is perhaps most evident on the gentle and breezy single ‘Twentytwo’, a definitive standout elevated by singer Julia Cumming’s crystal-clear vocals and a chorus backed with lush orchestration. Here she sings, ‘I do not go quietly / into the night that calls me’, and this resonates with their newly commanding and complete sound.
Opener ‘Burn It’ does an excellent job of setting the mood of the record, propelled forward by a swaggering opening riff reminiscent of T-Rex in their glam heyday. This and a handful of other upbeat, driving tracks – each one lasting no longer than five minutes, in true pop spirit – co exist alongside dreamier and more languid cuts. The album is not without its quieter moments: ‘Only a Moment’, for instance, with its ethereal vocals and sweeping instrumentals falls somewhere between Cocteau Twins and 1960s girl groups, and ‘Any Way You Like’ is a tender slow burner sung for the most part by guitarist Nick Kivlen. Lyrical themes of change, growth and maturity are weaved throughout – with Cumming asserting on ‘Memoria’ that ‘the past is the past for a reason’, over a wall of shimmering guitar. Nevertheless, however mature and reflective the album may be, the youthful, rambunctious energy and eclecticism of Sunflower Bean’s debut still looms, particularly in songs such as the punky ‘Crisis Fest’ which for all its lyrical clichés (lines about ‘leaving every stone unturned’; ‘if you hold us back you know that we can shout’) stomps along with bold attitude, a straightforward melody and poignantly political message about resilience in the face of crisis.
Twentytwo in Blue marks a decisive move forward for a band who started out writing and recording songs as teenagers; their sound has certainly developed into something fuller, more dynamic and imposing. For all its obvious influences, the songs on Twentytwo seem more like affectionate tributes to the band’s musical heroes rather than being overly derivative copycat attempts. It maintains an eclectic, original spirit throughout, and fans of their previous album will not be disappointed.
Words: Alys Hewitt