Saturday, February 16, 2019

CD Odyssey Disc 1230: Sunflower Bean

I am at the front of what is promising to be a delightful long weekend. Today I got things kicked off with brunch with the #1 love of my life (Sheila), and then went shopping for the #2 love of my life (music). It was a good day at the CD store where I came away with a treasure trove of new albums, and one disappointment. A quick recap – full details to come in a forthcoming review.
  • Cub’s “Betti-Cola”. I bought this because Neko Case plays drums on it, which is kind of cool. (1993)
  • Doug Paisley’s “Starter Home” (2018)
  • Mandolin Orange’s “Tides of a Teardrop” (2019)
  • Lula Wiles’ “What Will We Do” (2019)
  • Joe Jackson’s “Look Sharp (1979)
  • Gang of Four’s “Entertainment! (1979)

I also thought I had bought Delinquent Habits’ first album, but the disc inside was not the correct album so I’ll be returning that tomorrow.

More on those records when I roll them. OK – on to the review!

Disc 1230 is… Twentytwo in Blue
Artist: Sunflower Bean

Year of Release: 2018

What’s up with the Cover? The band, channeling different eras. From left to right Julia Cumming looks like a twenties socialite, Nick Kivlen looks like a sixties mod and Jacob Faber has opted for early eighties douchebag.

How I Came To Know It: I read a review of this album somewhere and even though it didn’t sound like my usual kind of music, I decided to check out their single, “Twentytwo”.  I fell into them from there.

How It Stacks Up:  I only have this one album, so there is nothing to stack it up against.

Ratings:  4 stars

When I bought “Twentytwo in Blue” I expected it to be the only Sunflower Bean album in my collection, but over the past couple of days this record has so thoroughly charmed me that I am going to have to go listen to their other releases and give them another chance.

Sunflower Bean is a trio from New York that plays a mix of guitar rock and dream pop. While the production is very 2018, with layers upon layers of crisp sound, the music feels heavily influenced by many musical eras, notably early sixties crooners and late eighties pop.

When the band rocks out, as they do on songs like “Burn It” and “Human For,” they don’t deliver much crunch, but that isn’t what they are going for. It is more of eighties punk crossed with late sixties Who. It doesn’t have a lot of bottom end in it, but it doesn’t lack for energy.

When they play a bit lighter is when they really shine, with songs that whirl whimsically about and make you feel like you are strolling through an English garden or maybe at a high school dance in an eighties romantic comedy. The songs have a dreamy quality, but they don’t fuzz out like so much dream-pop does, instead staying crisp and organic.

Both Julia Cumming and Nick Kivlen sing, but Cumming is the star of the show. Her voice sounds innocent and sweet, with just the right amount of sadness around the edges. She also has a lot of range, with a rich tone in her lower register and an airy angelic quality when she climbs up into her head voice. These songs seem simple and carefree in her hands, but they are a lot harder to sing along to than you’d expect. Believe me, I tried.

The album’s crowning jewel, “Twentytwo” is Cumming at her best. She puts her combination of innocence and experience to good use on a coming of age song that is an exploration of what young adults expect of one another, what society expects of them, and the tension that exists between these expectations.

Kivlen’s vocals are not nearly as revelatory, but the band wisely uses his light, slightly raspy delivery as either background accompaniment or as the occasional foil to Cumming, rather than her equal partner. He gets his best moments on “I Was a Fool” trading verses with Cumming, trading gentle and rolling melodies on a song that had me thinking of Fleetwood Mac in their prime.

Thematically, the album feels very young. I was reminded of the combination of uncertainty and optimism that exists in your early twenties. “Memoria” is about lost love, and “Crisis Fest” is a song that is part-lament for the state of America and part call to action. It’s also catchy as hell, with sing-along protest lines and the mother of all participation decisions in music – the handclap!

The album fades a little on Side Two, with songs that are a less catchy and more atmospheric than Side One but they also serve as a pleasant fade-out to the record, leaving you with a sort of echo of the good time you had, like a good sleep after a long day at the beach.

Another minor quibble was the album’s liner notes, which are printed in blue on a black background and utterly unreadable. The lyrics are all there – I assume – but the colour combination and the use of what I assume is some font in 6 point makes it hard to be sure.

Earlier this year I shared my top ten albums of 2018 and while “Twentytwo in Blue” didn’t make the cut, I think it is fair to say it lands at #11.

Best tracks: Burn It, I Was a Fool, Twentytwo, Crisis Fest, Memoria, Only a Moment

No comments: