Review: Sunflower Bean “Human Ceremony”

Austin Woods, Staff Reporter

I first discovered Sunflower Bean, the indie neo-psychedelic trio from Brooklyn, in a Rolling Stone article discussing rising artists to watch for.

When the article listed The Velvet Underground, one of my favorite bands, as an influence of theirs, I knew I had to try them out. I listened to their EP, Show Me Your Seven Secrets, and was instantly hooked.

The EP showcased a dark, foreboding sound, with otherworldly vocals by Julia Cumming and endearing lyricism. I loved it.

I’m pretty sure I’ve trashed indie culture in just about every review I’ve written, not only because I absolutely despise it, but also because my opinion is better than yours, and I want to ensure that you know it.

So I should probably hate Sunflower Bean, but, for whatever reason, I don’t. They’re not too dissimilar from a lot of other hipster bands, especially Tame Impala, one of their big influences.

But they’re also influenced by bands like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, so that balances it out I guess. Or maybe I’m just a hypocrite.

Probably the latter.

Anyway, their debut album, Human Ceremony, was released a couple weeks ago, which is a big milestone for the band.

For a debut album, it’s very good. Here’s why.

(Note: I decided to do something a little different this time, and write a track-by-track review, because I like to experiment and I was feeling lazy.)

Human Ceremony: The dreamy guitars on this track create a wispy atmosphere, and the vocal harmonies are unpretentiously pleasant and inexplicably sweet. Nevertheless, this track is kind of unmemorable. Nothing interesting is really done with it, and, as an opening track, it failed to hook me. This would’ve worked a whole lot better as an interlude.

Come On: Luckily, this track makes up for it. Easily one of the album’s standouts, “Come On” is where the group’s classic rock influences really shine through. It sounds like the lovechild of T. Rex and the Velvets, during their more commercially accessible later years of course. Speedy, hard-hitting guitars and Cumming’s memorable sad-girl vocals make this an instant classic.

2013: This song was first released on their aforementioned EP, Show Me Your Seven Secrets. To me, it seems to dabble with themes of retro futurism that one would find on a Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie album. I can see something like this appearing on The Rise and Fall, only a lot less mysterious and creepy. When I first heard this on Seven Secrets, it didn’t really do much for me. This time around, it still didn’t do much to me. This is definitely a filler track. It’s not bad, nor is it good. It’s sort of just there.

Easier Said: The album immediately bounces back with yet another standout. This is one of the album’s singles, which I listened to on Soundcloud when it first dropped. I knew Human Ceremony would be a great album when I first heard this. It’s probably the album’s poppiest song, but still maintains a vein of indie-cred. With sad-sounding guitars and vaguely melancholy lyrics, this is also the album’s most depressing song. For that very reason, I try to avoid listening to it. Not that I don’t like it though, because I do. You know what I mean? I confuse myself.

This Kind of Feeling: This track has a really awesome hard-rock guitar sound at certain points, but that’s about it. This song is another piece of unmemorable filler. I’m starting to see a pattern here, aren’t you?

I Was Home: This track is amazing. Its lyrics are trippy, and it has a guitar sound that vaguely reminds me of early Black Sabbath-brand sludge metal. It occupies the sweet spot located where the delightfully stupid psychedelia of Their Satanic Majesties Request meets the acidic blues rock of Disraeli Gears. My favorite song on the album, without a doubt. If you’re going to listen to any Sunflower Bean song at all, make it this one.

Creation Myth: The sound of this track seems to expand on the otherworldly ambience of the opener, only it’s a lot more distinct. The title sounds like it should be on a Marilyn Manson album, but don’t let it fool you. This song is very child-like and whimsical, retaining the psychedelic standards of the last track. But for some reason, much like “2013,” it doesn’t really do much for me.

Wall Watcher: This is another single that was released ahead of time, and another one of my favorites. It’s quick, unpretentious, to-the-point, and has an underlying sense of gloom masked over cheery vocal harmonies and catchy drums. This song further showcases Cumming’s vocals, as well as the band’s ability to make surprisingly good pop songs.  

I Want You to Give Me Enough Time: When I first listened to this, I thought it sounded like elevator muzak. “I’m pretty sure I heard this song in Dierbergs the other day,” is what I had originally written to be the only comment for this song. Then I listened to it a couple more times while eating cookies, and it grew on me. Sure, it’s a little dull, but the drums sound cool, and it has a catchy melody. So overall, not too bad.

Oh, I Just Don’t Know: This is the album’s shortest track, clocking in at just under two minutes, but it’s subtly one of the best. It has a laid-back, acoustic sound that reminds me very much of The Velvets’ sophomore album, and lyricism that can stand for any sort of confusion that we feel when trying to find ourselves. The line “Jesus has a place for me” would normally bother me, but I don’t think it’s meant to be taken seriously. I hope not, anyway.

Space Exploration Disaster: The album ends on a high note with this track, which combines great Lou Reed-style vocals with a classic rock sound and lyricism once again reminiscent of Bowie (or perhaps early Pink Floyd? I see some Piper at the Gates of Dawn influence here.) It ends the album on a perfect note.

Human Ceremony is, at its best, a skillful combination of classic rock, psychedelic, and indie-pop, seamlessly held together with excellent guitar work, equally excellent vocals, and the overall sense that the band is very invested and passionate about what they’re doing.

At its worst, it’s too often really boring. But, hey, there are worse things it could be. For a debut album, boring isn’t so bad.

Definitely be sure to check this one out.

Grade: B+