Album Review: TwentyTwo in Blue by Sunflower Bean

Sunflower Bean’s sophomore album, Twentytwo In Blue, released on Mom+Pop records, is a psychedelic reflection on the troubled politics of the last couple of years, and seeks to find strength through rebellion. The album moves from song to song like one looking through an old record collection, shifting in tone and sound with each track. A follow-up to their 2016 debut, Human Ceremony, Twentytwo In Blue is a collection of inspirations from the twentieth century, while feeling distinctly modern in its message.

Heavier songs like “Burn It” and “Crisis Fest” show the darker side of Sunflower Bean, encouraging listeners to make their voices heard. “If you hold us back/ You know that we can shout/ We brought you into this place/ You know we can take you out” sings Julia Cumming, vocalist and bassist. “‘Crisis Fest’ is less about politics and more about the power of us, the young people in this country,” the band states in a press release. On “I Was A Fool,” Cummings and Nick Kivlen sing of feeling lost and distanced from a loved one. The duet is sickly sweet, and strongly evokes Fleetwood Mac in the percussion from drummer Jacob Faber. On “Any Way You Like,” the difference between Kivlen’s dry, Lou Reed-esque vocals and Cumming’s crisper tones can feel stark, but on “I Was A Fool,” the lyrics mix perfectly, creating an ideal call-and-response. Kivlen reportedly used a recycled telephone booth to cut the higher range of his voice, producing a pleasing and classic mid-range sound.

“Twentytwo” is the highlight of the album, a long crescendo of Cummings’ singing solo, backed by an orchestral swell over the course of five minutes, building to a brilliant display of her singing talent. The lyrics echo both Taylor Swift and Dylan Thomas, a celebration of youth but also expressing fear for the future, inspiring a sense of steeliness in the narrator.

The album continues to expand on their sound, with songs like “Only A Moment” and “Any Way You Like” gently building over the course of the song. The emphasis on these tracks is on Cummings’ voice, which at times can come off clean and clear like Molly Rankin’s, beautifully layered to bring the songs to crescendo, and at others blows out the microphone to emulate Angel Olsen, cutting straight through to the meaning. It’s coupled by swelling guitar licks throughout, jangly and rich, while still nuanced in their technique.

Twentytwo In Blue is an exploration for Sunflower Bean, but also a declaration. They build on the platform of Human Ceremony while using it to send a message of resistance and strength between each other. Sometimes it’s through bitter punk ballads, other times it’s through songs searching for connection. The album feels like searching through dark forests or empty fields, but ultimately, finding a path to walk on, and maybe somebody else who’s just as lost as you are. Sunflower Bean, on the other hand, aren’t lost at all. Their path is clear from here on out.

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