Sunflower Bean has gotten by on enthusiasm more than any sort of prodigious talent.
So far in their relatively short career, Sunflower Bean has gotten by on enthusiasm more than any sort of prodigious talent. Their 2016 debut, Human Ceremony, was a hodgepodge collection of lovingly-rendered imitations that rarely gelled into something whole. At times, it seemed like the band was unable to decide exactly what they were, dabbling in punk, shoegaze and garage rock in equal measures. Youthful exuberance can only get you so far, though, and it seems as if Sunflower Bean have learned that lesson for Twentytwo in Blue. A more streamlined affair than last time out, the album also posits itself as a document of a young band growing into themselves.
The most noticeable change about Sunflower Bean’s demeanor on Twentytwo in Blue is how direct they’ve gotten. Previously, they dabbled in dreamy soundscapes that straddled the line between shoegaze and psychedelia in an attempt to create a sense of mystery and ambiguity. Now, that all seems to be a thing of the past. Twentytwo in Blue is very much a rock album, and when it isn’t, it hews closer to folk-pop balladry than it does to anything more obscure. In a way, that’s a relief; it shows that the band is narrowing their focus, and Sunflower Bean is better as a more conventional rock band than they are as shoegazers. The glam stomp of “Burn It” may not be the most original thing in the world, but it’s nonetheless an engaging barnburner of a song that feels all too short at four minutes long. This mode feels like Sunflower Bean at their best and most natural-sounding as a band, while their slower ballads bring the focus to Julia Cumming’s exceptional voice.
While their music has matured, the band’s lyrical content still leaves something to be desired. The current political climate shook a number of musicians awake, and Sunflower Bean is no exception. Sometimes, as on “Burn It” and the chugging “Crisis Fest,” they can marry their political and cultural concerns with a song that feels justifiably anthemic. Where they’re less successful is when they sing openly about the trials of growing up. It’s here, on the middling title track and the forgettable “Puppet Strings,” where the band sounds like kids in the worst way. In dealing with concepts like aging and the development of complex relationships, they still sound inexperienced and without direction, yet they present these views with the same gusto as their more pointedly topical work. All it serves to do is underscore the fact that, while Sunflower Bean have matured, they aren’t exactly there yet.
If Twentytwo in Blue is any indication, Sunflower Bean seems destined to become a pretty good rock band and not much more than that. While they are often exciting, they lack a certain sort of depth. Perhaps that is something that will come to them with age, but for the time being, Twentytwo in Blue is a pretty good party that fades quickly into the recesses of the mind.