Guitar bands have a tricky question to answer when they make their debut album, namely should they release a live-sounding record or take advantage of the possibilities of the recording studio?
On Human Ceremony, Sunflower Bean have shrewdly gone for a combination of the two. Yet even though they recorded it in just seven days, there are layers of nuance in the songs that stretch their musical language beyond the bombastic riffery of their earlier material into something much more accomplished and varied. It’s unashamedly retro in parts, but feels fresh enough to sound like a modern take on the Nuggets compilations.
That’s not to say they’ve abandoned the psych-rock on which they’ve built their live reputation - Best Fit described them as one of the best new bands at 2015’s Great Escape - as there’s plenty of classic three-piece powerpop on display. The infectious, pummelling “Wall Watcher” has the pop nous of Hüsker Dü’s “Could You Be The One?” “I Was Home” speeds up and down, creating a similar feeling of disorientation that The Small Faces wrought on “Itchycoo Park”
However the record really takes off when they ease their foot off the gas. “Easier Said” could be a Johnny Marr riff with an American accent and with the combination of singers’ Nick Kivlen and Julia Cumming’s voices they remind you of 70s and 80s Fleetwood Mac in places.
They slow things down even further on the lovely longing of “I Want You To Give Me Enough Time”, where the harmonies are underscored nicely by a droney keyboard and “Oh, I Just Don’t Know” which has a similar vocal interplay to Lou Reed and Moe Tucker’s duet on The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Sticking With You”.
The phrase ‘modern psychedelia’ often feels like an oxymoron, but on Human Ceremony Sunflower Bean make perfect sense of it, rewardingly broadening their musical horizons in the process and as with the Nuggets compilations it’s as diverse as you like yet retains a marvellous cohesion at the same time.