Rough Trade needed to pull one out of the hat this month. The last two offerings from Golden Teacher and Hinds were so far from being worthy of the Album Of the Month (AOM) headline that my only decision is do I take them to the secondhand record store down the road in Crouch End or flog them on line. I am starting to doubt continuing with my subscription as the duds are making some of last year’s gems (John Grant, Floating Points, The Districts) seem like a distant memory.
“Human Ceremony” by Sunflower Bean is a step in the right direction. They are attracting a great deal of press at present. First thing to say is that there is evidently far more skill and craft at work here than the previous two AOMs. The sleeve is all a bit Haight Asbury. The musical chops sit somewhere between psychedelia and indie but there are a few more recent acts that come to mind. Firstly and most distantly, Let’s Active who were REM producer Mitch Easter’s band. I saw them play a blinding support set at Birmingham Odeon to the Bunnymen in 1984. There’s a touch of Throwing Muses in there too. More recently, the recent Temples and Wand albums are of a type. “Right Now” in particular has that slightly wonky guitar arpeggio beloved of Throwing Muses, if not with their angularity. This isn’t amateur hour though, as could be said of Golden Teacher or Hinds.
The rhythm section (Jacob Faber and Julie Cumming) is tight, the guitars are skilled (Nick Kivlen) and the boy and girl harmonies (Kivlen and Cumming) are successful. I would imagine they work well live. The band are young and from New York and this is their debut on Fat Possum records, home of the Black Keys early LPs, including “Rubber Factory”, a personal favourite.
Here’s the single “Easier Said”. It’s hooky and appealing. The album does have at least a sense of energy which quite often undermines the more indie end of the spectrum.
The album comes in an attractive light green vinyl with a CD of cover versions. The covers are well selected classics – “Life’s A Gas” by T Rex and “Harvest Moon” by Neil Young for example.
The album isn’t particularly inventive but it succeeds at what it is – enjoyable melodic guitar pop. I know there seems to be a number of new bands around at the moment of a similar vein such as the Blossoms. For me, it isn’t enough to engage me on a long term basis but as pleasant background or a good club gig, it does enough. Interestingly though, my daughter who is approaching 12 really likes the album. It joins an increasing list of things that can go on the family hifi that we can all enjoy. I’ve played the album a few times since I started drafting this and it is growing on me. After the last two month’s AOMs, I’ll settle for that.
In the meantime, I’ll get my kicks in soul, jazz, Americana and electronic music. More of that to follow. I’m heading to Glastonbury with my daughter and no doubt we’ll keep an eye out for Sunflower Bean.