Find one thing you’re good at and stick with it. That’s what you’re supposed to do isn’t it? Or, as The Onion put it: “Find The Thing You’re Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life”, because “you know damn well that … you’re stuck on this mind-numbing path”. Either way, no-one appeared to have told Brooklyn trio Sunflower Bean, if their 2016 debut album was anything to go by.
Flipping playfully from indie-pop jangle to thrashy and brash, from echoes of psychedelia to briefly bruising multi-part mini-epics, Human Ceremony married youthful ardour – the band were all barely 20 years old on release – to melody and harmony, along with a beyond-their-years sagacity. The cover shot, of a scene knowingly aping Bringing It All Back Home – down to guitarist and co-vocalist Nick Kivlen’s Dylanesque curls – but covered in clocks, seemed to suggest that they were only too aware of where they might be expected to fit in, but had time enough to try something else.
The way these things are supposed to go, you’d be expecting to hear that Twentytwo In Blue finds Sunflower Bean more cultivated and less capricious; having grown older (hence the title) and found a groove to settle in. Again, no-one seems to have let the band know this, and the follow-up does just what Human Ceremony did, but more so. And better.
Throwing glam-inflected ‘70s rabble-rousing into the mix, on the opening Burn It and the fizzing, crackling Crisis Fest, there’s a riot going on, with vocalist and bassist Julia Cumming vowing to burn “this town … to the ground” in the first of these, then adding: “If you hold us back/You know that we can shout/We brought you into this place/You know we can take you out”, in the second; a clear and salient message to the old order about the potential of youth movements to effect change.
Elsewhere, the lush, jangly I Was A Fool starts off like PJ Harvey’s Good Fortune, quickly preferring Christine McVie – making a better fist of reverby, expensive Mac-ish production than the most recent Haim album – and sports one of the album’s duets between Cumming and Kivlen. As Nancy & Lee as they are Buckingham Nicks, their combination of deadpan and sweetness lifts the subtly string-enhanced waltz Any Way You Like, while the pair play off each other through the meandering folk psych closer Oh No, Bye Bye.
As Human Ceremony had the nagging, hooky/heavy Wall Watcher or Come On, here Sunflower Bean sometimes find succour in the life-saving power of joyful noise: Human For’s “Don’t need your religion … don’t need your protection … I need the sound of the drums!”, or Puppet Strings’ Bolan boogie via Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs.
But amid all the giddily indulgent genre-hopping, there’s genuine heart, particularly in the woozy, echoey, blurred-at-the-edges Only A Moment, or the title track. “I do not go quietly/Into the night that calls me”, Cumming sings, aping another Dylan; it’s older and wiser but still impossibly young.
“When you’re good at something,” according to Walter Payton, “you’ll tell everyone. When you’re great at something, they’ll tell you.” On the strength of Twentytwo In Blue, Sunflower Bean ought to be told, and often.