My first exposure to Sunflower Bean came in the form of their fantastic track “I Hear Voices.” The dirty, pulsating guitar riffs and haphazardly delivered lyrics made the song somehow feel like a love letter to bands like Parquet Courts and Blondie, simultaneously. For weeks I found myself returning to the track and wondering how a full-length might sound when Sunflower Bean finally got around to releasing one.
Back in February I stopped wondering. The New York alt-rock trio had finally released Human Ceremony, their first record.
Listening to this album, it quickly became clear that Sunflower Bean made some changes. The ferocious garage rock sensibilities of their earliest releases had been all but forgotten, replaced by a sound that favors jangly guitar parts and wispy, reserved vocal performances. There are still moments on this album where the band revisits the anger and power of tracks like “I Hear Voices,” but these moments are few and far between.
It’s a welcomed change. Human Ceremony is an album that succeeds by virtue of its simplicity. The record wears its influences on its sleeve. As these songs play, it’s easy to see that groups like The Cure and The Stone Roses were very important to the members of Sunflower Bean, a fact that works in the album’s favor. These songs remind us of music we used to love, while still managing to feel unique and dazzling.
What sets Sunflower Bean’s music apart from their influencers is the absolutely addictive vocal exchanges between singers Julia Cumming and Nick Kivlen. The pair have struck an incredible balance between Kivlen’s harsh crooning and Cumming’s angelic murmuring that ends up feeling both hypnotic and at times delightfully dark.
This is a great album and a wonderful debut. Its charming simplicity and stunning vocals make this record feel like a brand new take on music we all know and love. The DIY attitude and glistening energy of these songs gives the impression that they are even better live. Human Ceremony is one of the year’s must-listens.
Stream Human Ceremony via Spotify below.