Brooklyn can be an incredibly hopeless place, especially if you’re a young musician. Competing face to face with the formidable nightlife of New York City, try convincing a stranger to pick between, say… a LCD Soundsystem reunion show, a performance at Sleep No More, happy hour with your study abroad roomie who just got into town, dinner reservations at Mission Chinese, a live taping of Ask Me Another at Bell House, and your show. Hell, have fun trying to convince your own friends.
That is why when a band breaks out of the so-called hallowed ground of Brooklyn they duly deserve the praise and your waning attention. So who is Sunflower Bean? A trio of early 20 somethings who were named the #1 Hardest Working Band in NYC in 2014 by show-list service Oh My Rockness. This is not an objective accolade whatsoever; it was awarded for their 50 (!) shows in the New York area in said calendar year. With the enchanting Julia Cummings at their disposal, and their nostalgic 70s rock aspirations boundless by lead guitarist Nick Kivlen’s chops, Sunflower Bean quickly separated themselves from their peers.
Fast forward to today, the band’s debut Human Ceremony was just released by Fat Possum Records and the band looks to begin their ascent to glory. The album operates in the realm of said throwback 70’s rock, early 90’s shoe gaze, and new psychedelia albeit more polished than their sludgy EP. But the major shift seen on the debut is the band opted to put Cummings front and center. One might assume that this move was to put the bombshell in the spotlight, after all her stunning looks might get anyone’s attention: even fashion giants Yves Saint Laurent. But, not the case at all. In fact, Cummings, whose previous contribution to recording was screechy yelping on bizarrely titled “Tame Impala”, can sing. On “Easier Said”, she sings with purpose and confidence; her voice hitting higher notes as she recites the chorus almost effortlessly. The whole record continues in this notion, Cummings’ voice commanding but also containing a gentle nature, like she’s exploring this territory for the first time.
But this is no means a fucking love note to Julia Cummings. Although this record signifies the great potential of a young female voice, this band is more interested in grooves. Grooves that a band only earns from playing out as much as Sunflower Bean has. heir cohesion is evident on songs such as “I Was Home” and “Creation Myth”, two numbers with instrumental movements that exhibit Sunflower Bean’s vast influences, musical prowess and unique songwriting ability. The music touches on Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and NEU!… brave bands for such a young band to reference. But throughout Human Ceremony sole guitar player, Kivlen explores his fretboard and navigates Sunflower Bean through 70’s psychedlia like the classic rockers before him.
As a young band though, they were bound to suffer at least one pitfall. Possibly an attempt to diversify their sound, slow numbers such as “I Want You To Give Me Enough Time” show some soft pop sentiment but aren’t fully realized and sound like songs that have been hanging around since Kivlen first started taking guitar lessons. “Oh, I Just Don’t Know” sounds like an exercise in writing a Rolling Stones blues riff.
Ultimately, Human Ceremony shows that Sunflower Bean has potential and great grasp on their garage dynamics but their identity outside of pure rock and roll is still unrealized. Whether they decide to explore the softer notions on Human Ceremony later, we shall see. But the experiences from escaping the Brooklyn scene will allow them to evolve in front of our very eyes. And if they come to your town, I’d advise to skip happy hour with your buddy