Album Reviews - Reviews

Sunflower Bean – Human Ceremony


One of the inherent issues of being part of the hype machine is that your teething pains stand a good chance of destroying  you. If you don’t come out of gestation period fully formed and with the next OK Computer neatly tucked into your back pocket then it’s back to the “2PM slot on the smallest stage” ghetto for you. Brooklyn’s Sunflower Bean, hotly tipped for indie rock stardom for the last two years, are victims of their own hype. Their debut LP, Human Ceremony, is a record borne of that expectation that struggles to find it’s own feet. Clear lines of thought do exist, the band want to play fuzz driven psychedelic rock, but they seem unsure as to what they can do within those parameters. Rather than carving a niche and identity for themselves, the group smother their debut in overproduction and musical nostalgia that borders on shameless pilfering at times. Yet buried within it’s so-so recesses lay hidden a number of perfect examples of what the group intends to achieve.

Part of the teething pains on show are an overreliance on the work of past masters. The majority of what is on display here has a clearly defined line to some other group over the last twenty years, typically manifesting itself as the ‘insert band’ bit of the song. They’re unable to meld their influences into any kind of consistent whole, rather they place them all separately side by side and seem to hope you enjoy the genre hops. The most consistent influence does seem to be The Cure’s 1980s output with many of the songs taking their hazier sensibilities from Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and Disintegration. This is evident on pieces including the title track and ‘Creation Myth’. The group also indulge in one of the more annoying trends in contemporary indie rock music of artificially cramming shoegaze elements in order to lend the music some kind of claim to abstract artistry and faux sense of depth.

For such an anticipated album there is very little to cling onto. It sounds like a half dozen other massively hyped lo-fi bands from the last half decade. Never bad, just an absence of personality. The only real calling card for the disc would be it’s production, which mostly serves to hamper the experience as a whole. It’s a garage rock record that is overproduced; it’s noisy, messy affectations sound clipped and polished. Not in Butch-Vig-terrified-of-a-single-bit-of-discordance way, but in the way that feels like if Jackson Pollock was being forced to paint like August Macke. The intent is still there, but the vision has been made more rigid and confined.

There are some fine cuts on display here. The country twinged ‘I Want You To Give Me Enough Time’ uses the contrast between it’s twanging guitars and synths swells to great effect and lead ‘Wall Watcher’ is well supported by a chunky bassline, even if it’s vocals can be trying. But the real MVP on display is the album closer ‘Space Exploration Disaster’, a spacey, classic rock number that gives the album a final shot of adrenaline before the lights come up.

Ultimately though, this is a record that feels almost scattershot and unsure of itself, lost within it’s own hype. A far too tidy mess of debut from a band that wanted to show off exactly what they could do, rather than considering  what they should do. Will Murphy