(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Album Review: Sunflower Bean – Human Ceremony

By on Friday, 19th February 2016 at 12:00 pm

Sunflower Bean Human Ceremony album art coverThere’s something endearingly erratic about the debut record from Brooklyn’s latest export Sunflower Bean. Filled with songs that flirt between urgent and laid-back, it’s all very concurrent which makes for an exciting listen. You really don’t know what could come next: not quite on a Grimes hyper-scale, but it’s certainly refreshing.

Opening and title track ‘Human Ceremony’ builds a surrounding ether from both guitars, with an encapsulating ‘80s reverberation and percussion that follows alongside nicely. It’s a calm entrance but by no means an indicator of the rest of the record. ‘Come On’ is a different beast entirely, beginning with a crunchy guitar sound that leads into a much higher tempoed track, it’s a palate cleanser before you’ve even had a bite to eat. With singer and bassist Julia Cumming’s reiteration of “Right now, I’m on the edge of my seat”, it’s certainly a good indication of where they have you, and it’s only the second track. Her falsetto plays together nicely with the urgency within its sound.

This progresses nicely into ‘2013’, which itself is a retrospectively positioned track, looking toward the present future. It was written on New Years Eve in 2013 and released in 2014 so this is a nice little update to a previously heard track. The lyrical content is minimal but it suits the instrumentation which is meandering, but in a positive sense, a la Pink Floyd or more modern contemporaries such as Tame Impala, with a nice breakdown at the end.


For some reason, when listening to ‘I Was Home’, the lyrics “What did you do today?” along with the answering “I didn’t do much today” just recalls the classic Kaiser Chiefs track ‘Never Miss a Beat’. Fortunately, that’s the closest they come to any notion of being like the Kaiser Chiefs; it’s just an unfortunate match in lyrics. The track is a fast-paced punk number that powers through in an early 2000’s Vines-esque capacity.

‘Creation Myth’ peters out slightly, reverting back to the psych-centred guitars and falsetto vocals. That is, until toward the end, where it turns into a Black Sabbath monolith, with some of the heaviest guitars on the record and potentially in anything released so far this year. Sunflower Bean know exactly how to compose a song to intrigue and surprise you, a strength that will in no doubt fuel their career and propel it forward. The fuzz continues into ‘Wall Watcher’, which uses more repetition in the lyrics to create a swirling mixture of sound and imagery. “Watching, watching, watching you”: it’s almost as if the band are talking for the audience, anticipating their own fame.

The combination of both Cumming and second vocalist Nick Kilvern is endearing. Her voice is sweet and beautifully sits on top of any mix it’s involved with, whereas Kilvern’s hangs below, with a rough Dylan edge to it. (This may also explain the album cover’s similarity to ‘Bringing It All Back Home’.) This possible influence is most apparent in the shortest cut on the record, ‘Oh, I Just Don’t Know’, a sparse, rough blues number focusing mostly on the vocals rather than instrumentation. It just to show Sunflower Bean don’t have to rely on effect-drenched guitars and surprising hard rock riffs.

Finale ‘Space Exploration Disaster’ is a decent enough closer, presenting 2013 as a frontier that’s looming, especially with the lyrics “In the end, 2013, no one can hear you scream”. It also could be a comment on the music industry, but that’s a whole other conversation. It uses a mixture of layered guitars and controlling percussion that takes the song where it needs to go, which is to the eventual choruses, through a slow pace.

It’s definitely a solid debut record, one Sunflower Bean should not only be proud of but should look to develop on. Maybe hone the sound slightly so that there’s less surprises and more full executed twists. And even more Sabbath-style breakdowns, which are wonderfully unexpected and a perfect compliment to a soft shoegaze sound.


‘Human Ceremony’, the debut album from hyped New York band Sunflower Bean, is out now on Fat Possum Records. The band are scheduled to perform at SXSW 2016, with two appearances already announced: Thursday afternoon, the 17th of March, at the Radio Day stage at the Austin Convention Center, and Friday night, the 18th of March, at the Parish.

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