In 1967, three teenagers came together to form one of the great rock bands in history. Fleetwood Mac started with drummer Mick Fleetwood before settling in as a five piece with John and Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham, and Stevie Nicks. Thirty-one years ago, Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic pieced together Nirvana in Aberdeen, Washington. We all know their histories and the legacies they’ve left. A few decades later, a new generation has its own Fleetwood Mac and Nirvana in Brooklyn-based trio Sunflower Bean – a band with a classic rock sound is capturing the angst and rage of young people.
Like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band, Julia Cumming (bass), Nick Kivlen (guitars), and Jacob Faber (drums) have earned their place among rock’s elite. Formed in 2013, the trio quickly earned the title as the Big Apple’s hardest-working band by OhMyRockness a year later. At the time, they only had a six-track EP under their belt – the rocking Show Me Your Seven Seconds that earned them a place on our Artists to Watch in 2016 list. Their debut album, Human Ceremony, released that year, reinvigorated the classic rock of The Velvet Underground, Blondie, and Talking Heads. Unsurprisingly, it made several “Best Of” lists, including our own. They are on pace again to be recognized at the end of 2018 with another sensational retro-rocker in Twentytwo in Blue.
While Sunflower Bean’s first two outputs were terrific, their rawness showcased a band still charting its path. On Twentytwo in Blue, the coarse edges are smoothed out, the instrumentation is tighter, and Cumming’s vocals are fuller and more confident. The record is the mark of a band headed in one direction – upwards.
The dazzling “Only A Moment” perfectly illustrates the band’s maturation. It’s a familiar Romeo and Juliet love story heightened by the emotional vulnerability in Cumming’s vocals and a riveting folk-rock soundscape. The quartet enter the Laurel Canyon realm with the enchanting “Any Way You Like”, as Cumming and Kivlen tell the tale of a person getting a second chance.
This is the other strength of Sunflower Bean: the songwriting and storytelling are tighter and more imaginative. With the groovy strikes of Buffalo Springfield, Kivlen and Cumming narrate on “Sinking Sands” their friend Max’s foray with fake news. The dazzling “Memoria” encourages people to not be beholden to the past while the vibrant “I Was A Fool” is another Fleetwood Mac swelter. The interplay between Cumming and Kivlen is fantastic, as they offer the perspectives of two lovers who met serendipitously. It’s an instant classic.
Where the band truly excel is on the songs that present the rage growing within today’s younger generations. On the rollicking opener, “Burn It”, Cumming expresses her frustration with trying to deal with constant change around her. In this case, it is an ode to the New York City she once loved. In some cases, feelings and experiences are ambiguous. “I used to have dreams, but I threw them away,” Kivlen sings on “Puppet Strings”, which is a perfect union of The Breeders and The New Pornographers.
On “Crisis Fest”, the trio brilliantly capture the thoughts of young people living in a chaotic modern world. From politics to student debt, the song reflects the growing tidal wave of people wanting change immediately. As Cumming succinctly sings, “We brought you into this place. You know we can take you out”. The album’s pinnacle, “Twentytwo”, on the other hand, is sensual, intimate, and immensely personal. Akin to a young Stevie Nicks, Cumming writes a note to herself about the people she will meet and the challenges to come. Her message is focused on persevering through the expectations, the difficulties, and the shadows that seek to control us.
Like most young people, the response to the coercers is to take control yourself, which is expressed on the exuberant “Human For”. With the March for Our Lives held this past weekend, this song could be the anthem for a new generation of leaders and change makers. As Cumming hollers, “I don’t need your religion! I don’t need your protection!” Indeed, these 22-year-old artists don’t need our help; they’re carving out their own legacy. And maybe in a few decades from now, we’ll look fondly back at the superb Twentytwo in Blue as one of the landmark albums of this era.
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