The celebrated New York indie rock band Sunflower Bean returns with their third album ‘Headful Of Sugar’, an explosive and triumphant head-rush of disillusionment with the modern world. The sonically mellow band issues a lyrically-charged scream against the lived experiences of late capitalism. From satirising corporate greed on ‘Roll The Dice’, to a disdainful takedown of 24-hour, purposefully inflammatory news cycles on ‘Baby Don’t Cry’, the album is subtly furious against a backdrop of impressive, melodic engineering.
Sunflower Bean first voiced a sense of societal unease in their acclaimed sophomore LP, ‘Twentytwo In Blue’. Focused on the questioning of relationships and role models when coming of age in an ever-changing world, fans felt instantly connected to the thoughtful angst and helpless frustration. A mere (and tumultuous) four years later, on the heels of the societal change brought around by the COVID-19 pandemic, Sunflower Bean does not forgo this frustration. On ‘Headful Of Sugar’, they present a world that is not promised, with bassist/vocalist Julia Cummings saying: “Tomorrow is not promised, no tour is promised, no popularity is promised, no health or money is promised.” As their art matures from the youthful gaze of helplessness, they shift to a perspective rooted in an acute awareness of contemporary dilemmas, and overall the shock of coming into maturity at a volatile moment in society.
Sunflower Bean cemented themselves as a staple of Brooklyn’s early-2010’s DIY scene, even though they had mixed feelings on the classification. Throughout their career, Sunflower Bean have transcended from fading into the immense pool of indie-rock artists, gaining the title of NYC’s “hardest working band”, and providing a soundtrack to coming of age to a generation of indie fans.
‘Headful Of Sugar’s production was relatively experimental for the trio. Recorded largely at home, drummer Olive Faber stepped in as an engineer for the first time, providing a sense of creative liberty and privacy foreign to a traditional studio environment. The result is an album that feels extremely relatable, but entirely personal simultaneously.
However, the album is never bleak, and certainly not hopeless. ‘Headful Of Sugar’ is far more anarchist than angsty, as they express that the chaos of new experiences fosters a culture of new possibilities. ‘I Don’t Have Control Sometimes’, a technicolour pop song reminiscent of The Cure, is self-assured: There’s a sense of self-confidence and a refusal to be apologetic that arises with maturity. ‘Beat The Odds’, is one of the more faithfully-“indie” tracks, further showcasing a self-assured swagger needed for the modern age. It builds on the idea that Sunflower Bean is no longer terrified of their future, but have grasped a control of their path, fuelled by vocalised anarchy in the face of adversity.
The standout album opener and single ‘Who Put You Up To This?’ eases the listener into the matured identity of Sunflower Bean. The song presents a dual-meaning: a farewell to a lover, as well as a farewell to a former self. They showcase the concept of divorcing their sense of self from the circumstances they’re in, giving themselves autonomy in a seemingly directionless time.
Perhaps the beauty of the album to a longtime fan is watching the real-time growth of Sunflower Bean. The transition from the hopeless disillusionment and confusion of youth into a more self-assured and self-aware anger at the 24-hour news cycle, the destruction of work/life boundaries in soulless laptop jobs, and overall hopelessness and mundanity of a late-capitalist society. For new listeners, Sunflower Bean emulates an anarchical dissatisfaction easily felt by all of us during such confusing and seemingly hopeless times. All in all, its a beautiful sign of the times – psychedelic and indie focused in melody, with poignant and important lyrics giving a pulse to an otherwise-relaxed-sounding project.
Words: Ruby Carter
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