Twentytwo in Blue conveys a hue that speaks to Sunflower Bean’s youth. The title of the fast-sprouting Brooklyn trio’s sophomore album references both the age of the band members—all 22—as well as a color that drummer Jacob Faber says he associates with “resilience like the sky and ocean” rather than a melancholy tone.
“We were worried that people might think it’s a sad record,” adds singer/bassist Julia Cumming. “And then we thought that it also had this other side that was more hopeful and expansive.” As for being 22, she offers, “You’re not a child, but you still have your whole life ahead of you. And you know there’s so much you need to learn, but you’re starting to understand the strength or resilience you have within you.”
It’s not like the members of Sunflower Bean are entirely new to this rock thing. Cumming played in her first band at age 14, when she teamed up with Manhattan childhood friend and family-band veteran Rachel Trachtenburg in the psych-pop combo Supercute! Long Island natives Faber and guitarist/singer Nick Kivlen were in bands by age 16 and Kivlen knew Cumming from shows in New York.
“It almost seems inevitable for us to become friends because we were outliers in this world of 20- and 30-year-olds,” Cumming says. “We were those kids that everyone was friends with and let us hang around and be part of the scene.”
Launching Sunflower Bean in 2013, they were influenced by Down Under psych-rockers Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, whose bassist Jake Portrait co-produced the new album with Matt Molnar of the Brooklyn band Friends. Molnar previously helped Sunflower Bean record its 2016 full-length debut, Human Ceremony, around mostly guitar-driven jams.
Yet Twentytwo in Blue highlights the group’s maturity, built around better songwriting as well as pop-conscious yet experimental layering. The March release ranges from the T. Rex-like stomp of past-dashing opener “Burn It” to the ethereal post-shoegaze balladry of “Only a Moment,” with Cumming emerging throughout as a more prominent, versatile singer. “I Was a Fool” even evokes Fleetwood Mac in its melodic turns as well as the vocal dynamic between Kivlen and Cumming, who flies high with dreamy Stevie Nicks-like harmonies.
Cumming acknowledges the band was drawn to Fleetwood Mac’s 1979 opus Tusk for its experimental spirit. “It kind of gave us strength production-wise to think we should take risks,” she says. “If there’s no risk, there’s no experimentation and it’s just the past. If rock wants to survive, it can’t just be the past.”
In marked contrast—and clearly in the present—is “Crisis Fest,” a pointed tune that targets the Trump-era with lines like “Reality’s one big sick show” and “Every day’s a missile test.” Kivlen ties it to the fear, anxiety and lack of opportunities facing young people, who are starting to make their voices heard. “Our entire generation is not in tune with the people who are controlling this country,” Kivlen says. “For the most part, they’re extremely rich, extremely white Christian men. It doesn’t match up with the makeup of this country. The country is changing more rapidly than ever, and I think eventually the powers that govern this country will have to reckon with that.”
Yet the album’s edgier, topical moments are outweighed by a largely sunny, enveloping disposition. Cumming says the band wanted to avoid making disposable music but also create an album that’s “lovable” for listeners. “The important thing is not what the press says or how much it sells,” she says. “It’s that it actually gets to people and makes them feel something.”
That should carry through to the group’s live shows. The hard-touring trio—which returns to the Middle East to headline Sonia over English punk upstarts Dream Wife on May 3—strips back the layers for a sparse web where Cumming’s melodic bass can fill spaces as much as Kivlen’s guitar. And eventually it’ll be back to the studio.
“I’m interested to see who we’ll be on the other side,” Cumming says. “We have to rebel to keep things interesting, to learn from it and grow and see what we can do next.” ◆
Sunflower Bean plays Sonia on May 3.
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