Album of the Month: Sunflower Bean - Human Ceremony
Let me tell you something. Kanye West's "The Life of Pablo" was slated as February's album of the month. To a self-effacing, down-to-earth and humble man-cum-messiah like Yeezus, that would have come as an honor. I admire Kanye as a truly formidable artist, someone that has pushed the boundaries of rap and hip-hop, a pioneer in some respects, fulfilling his role as a genuine, unpredictable and slightly bonkers star inhabiting a hyper-fantasy world. But recently I read one too many of his offensive tweets and as a consequence, I finally resigned myself to the fact that he is an egotistical narcissist trapped by his own reflection, hemmed in by sycophants and utterly dislikeable. The bottom line is that Kanye is a total (insert sliding scale of derogatory term here). Since he decreed that those of white color ought not to review or discuss his music, then screw him. There's plenty of other great stuff around at the moment... Field Music, Diiv, Beyonce's killer drop of "Formation" just prior to the Super Bowl and this month's offering, Sunflower Bean.
Rolling Stone magazine have described the Brooklyn three-piece as the "coolest young band" at the moment. I am not sure about that. I am not sure what exactly constitutes "cool" these days. I'm a middle-aged man that lives in the suburbs of Guildford in leafy Surrey. But for sure they strike a "cool" pose - that distracted thousand-yard stare, facial hair, scuffed leather jackets and a bleach blond female lead that could pass as St. Vincent's younger sister. Just look at their album cover. They are Nick Kivlen, Jacob Faber and Julia Cumming, the latter having studied at a performing arts school in Manhattan and at just 19-years-old, can already boast an impressive CV as both lead singer of Sunflower Bean while moonlighting as a model for Yves Saint Laurent.
Their brand of music draws on Piper-era Pink Floyd, psych rock, glam, Krautrock and a bit of Americana, and they do it well on their debut album "Human Ceremony." Much like Wolf Alice's over-achieving debut of 2015, what singles Sunflower Bean is the eclecticism of their music. The title track glistens with guitar arpeggios, built around a dreamlike sound that underpinned the English shoegazing scene of the early 1990s. This makes Sunflower Bean sound both fashionably retro and contemporary, since "shoegaze" has suddenly come back into vogue - Chapterhouse, Slowdive, Ride, etc. It's the kind of song to which you gently sway your shoulders; look downcast and intellectual. It is a deceptive opening. "Come On" is harder hitting and scuzzier with a jarring time signature change in the chorus that works a treat. "Easier Said" is reminiscent of "The Sundays," Cummings' high-pitched vocals floating over the guitars. For sure, it is unashamedly retro, but authentic all the same. Where they do stumble is when they strive for a heavier sound, especially apparent in the final couple of minutes of "Creation Myth" that just seems to drag on.
Is it the best album this month? No. It's probably Kanye. He has a right to be provocative and mouth off. He's the kind of guy you would walk a mile away from if you met down at the pub. Lots of heroes pander to idiocy and turned into the proverbial wanker for various lengths of time: Chuck Berry, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Prince, Liam Gallagher and Eminem have all had notorious spells of being loathsome, offensive and annoying. That never denuded them the genius of their musicianship or artistry. They still culturally enriched many people's lives. Kanye West is just another in that line, forcing us to ignore his puerile comments and just focus on the music. Usually I do just that. I just decided to make an exception this time.
Hmm... I've been drinking a lot of cheap Bordeaux recently. Check out Château Les Gabriaux 2012 - a delightful Médoc. That's not advice. That's an order. Have your notes on my desk by next week or you'll be in detention for a week.
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