By Oliver Shasha
Moving forward with their sound but turning the clocks backwards, the Sunflower Bean time machine has churned out yet another dose of vintage coolness. With ‘King of the Dudes’, the band have continued their relentless assault on the convoluted world of Indie Rock, further diversifying their sound with unforgiving vocal performances, and dialling up the 70s-ness of their sound to (i’m not gonna say 11) about a 9.
‘King of the Dudes’ follows 2017’s ‘Twentytwo in Blue’, a record that elevated the band from the obscurity of spontaneous radio plays and edgy promotional visuals, to a competitive player in the New York Rock scene, issuing a much more authoritative stance to support their improved identity and sound. The NME even listed the album in their 13 best New York albums of all time, just weeks following its release. To even the most modest of music intellectuals, a comparison between Sunflower Bean and the retro burgeoning noises of the 1970s would seem pretty obvious. Initial highlights such as ‘Easier Said’ and ‘Human Ceremony’ possess a warm fragility, painting a beautiful but tragic image of the band’s swift emergence in the Big Apple. In the band’s sophomore album ‘Twentytwo In Blue’, these themes were perfectly moulded around the finer qualities of melody and structure, to further establish the band as a modern day zenith of the best soft rock moments of the 1970s. In an effortlessly cool dynamic between singers Nick Kivlen and Julia Cummings, ‘I Was A Fool’ encapsulates the bands instrumental chemistry to narrate a haunting tale of misleading desires and loss. Their greatest musical achievement in the lead up to ‘King of the Dudes’, ‘I Was A Fool’ is a scintillating modern account of the Fleetwood Mac classic ‘Dreams’, and is undoubtedly just as easy on the ears.
The title and first track on ‘King of The Dudes’ starts off with a punchy ensemble of Cummings’ angsty but assertive vocal performance, complimented by a driven rhythm section that sits back, supporting and drawing added attention to Cummings’ empowering lyricism, summoning the listener into an energetic delusion with which even the American Dream seems achievable. ‘King of The Dudes’ is a progression from the broken unenthused soul of ‘I Was A Fool’, manifested into an enlightened, vengeful symbol of power and progression. The middle 8 guitar breakdown is the Linsey Buckingham wet dream that we all need if we’re going to survive 2019. The jangly guitar licks stylishly round off the opening track with the kind of charity shop swagger that’ll see many adolescent fans scrambling at their parents wardrobes for denim jackets and flares. ‘Come For Me’ continues the aggressive vocal possessiveness that the three piece have only before flirted with. Discordancy in Cummings’ vocal energy in the wider context of previous Sunflower Bean records, give the new songs an emotional flare, imbued with the discordant bipolar nature of music old and new. Sunflower Bean have not just progressed musically, but lyrically and melodically, this new EP transcends the trio into the unguarded and hostile realms of the unknown.
Listen to ‘Come For Me’ here:
‘Come For Me’ was the perfect single to drop in the wake of ‘King of The Dudes’, with an anthemic chorus that really sounds like it’ll captivate live audiences all over, and with drum build ups that instil a feeling of never ending momentum, nobody should be surprised that ‘Come For Me’ is already hoovering up radio play and streams, with no signs of slowing down.
‘Fear City is next up’. Taking their foot slightly off the gas, this three and a half minute track feels a little less assertive in direction and focus than the two before it. Off the back of the two previous songs’ successful indulgence into a 70s rock vibe, this third track is a little convoluted in its tone, and perhaps lingers off towards what sounds like a more forced and calculated push for a vintage sound, rather than the impulsive and natural arrival at the hard rock renaissance of the two previous. The chorus of ‘Fear City’ comes as a particularly underwhelming moment, with the relaxed drum beats and almost poppy guitar variations failing to correspond with Cummings’ vocal dilapidation. Sunflower Bean are undoubtedly at their best when the hostility and emotion of the music naturally imbues the nostalgia of previous generations. As a result of these takeaways, ‘Fear City’ is certainly the weakest inclusion to ‘King Of The Dudes’.
Surely a pit opener on the live stage, ‘The Big One’ is an adrenaline ride that is so chaotic and relentless that you seriously need a sit down and a hot beverage after you’ve departed. ‘The Big One’ ensures that ‘King of the Dudes’ is genuinely a stylistic statement on the band’s behalf. The former makers of melody and melancholy are enduring an exercise in the extreme, and we’re all for it. Sure to release a third album and still enriched in the rollercoaster of youth, Sunflower Bean are the gift that keeps on giving.