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Support: Purr, Samia
GA standing room. All ages.
Accessible accommodations should purchase a General Admission ticket and will be taken care of at the venue day of event.
Sunflower Bean Set to Return with “Twentytwo in Blue,” a Second Album Made For Today
Blue, as Julia Cumming of Brooklyn’s Sunflower Bean points out, is something of a “loaded color.” The word is of course often synonymous with sadness-certainly blues music isn’t known for its laughs. But blue is also the United Nations’ internationally recognized color of peace; the stripe in the rainbow on the Pride flag that represents serenity; and the “emotional color” of Sunflower Bean’s upcoming sparkling second album, Twentytwo in Blue. “We definitely don’t want it to come across as a sad record,” explains Cumming. “Blue is kind of hopeful, and we wanted to explore that color with this record.” The new LP by vocalist and bassist Cumming, drummer Jacob Faber and guitarist and vocalist Nick Kivlen is many things: rousing, romantic, topical, empathetic and insightful. But defeatist it’s not.
All three band members will in fact be 22 when Twentytwo in Blue is released in March of 2018, almost two years and two months after Sunflower Bean’s hazy, charming debut LP, Human Ceremony. They were two momentous years for the trio, who’ve now toured the world multiple times over on headlining stints and as support for indie rock essentials like DIIV, Best Coast, The Vaccines, Pixies and Wolf Alice. By the month, they only grew in accomplishment, and gained a newly confident voice they bring to the second album, one that doesn’t shy away from addressing the other events of those two years-political changes and cultural shifts that have left America and the world stupefied. “This has been such an unbelievable time,” says Kivlen. “I can’t imagine any artist of our ilk making a record and not have it be seen through the lens of the political climate of 2016 and 2017. So I think there’s a few songs on the record that are definitely heavily influenced by this sort of-whatever you want to say what the Trump administration has been.” “A shit show,” offers a helpful Faber.
The resistance is full-throated on Twentytwo in Blue, on tracks like “Burn It”, a rollicking power pop opener that declares war on the status quo: “The street it has my name/ I burn it to the ground.” “Crisis Fest” is a call to millennial arms, melding pop shimmer and drive with the personal and political. “2017-we know/ Reality’s one big sick show/ Every day’s a crisis fest”, Cumming sings. There are references to missile tests, “80 grand” in school debt, and a “coup” in the country, and an urgent, determined rave-up hook that puts the establishment on notice: “If you hold us back, you know that we can shout/ We brought you into this place/ You know we can take you out!” “It’s less a song about Donald Trump than it is about more of a generational divide,” says Kivlen. “And the ideals of tomorrow and progressive-leaning groups versus people who want things to stay the same or go backwards. It speaks to how our generation are demonized or seen as lazy, when actually we’re the most educated. People call us ‘snowflakes’ because we have sensitive ideals. But being sensitive is a good thing, because we’re attuned to people who’ve been tread on throughout history.”
Elsewhere on Twentytwo in Blue, the twangy gem “Sinking Sands” delves into Kivlen’s fascination with alarmist, conspiracy-laden podcasts and where that can lead in the era of “fake news”, and marries his droll, Beck-like lead vocal with a dreamy chorus from Cumming. The two share vocals again on “Puppet Strings” a proper glam rock stomper and sure-fire crowd pleaser in Sunflower Bean’s live shows, and on lead single “I Was a Fool”, released in November along with a darkly funny “misfit prom” video. And there are even echoes of our ongoing moment of cultural reckoning with generations of sexual harassment and abuse by men in power on “Twentytwo”, a breezy mid-tempo track with a sweetness that belies the dark truth at its core. “Busted and used/ That’s how you view your girl/ Now that she’s 22,” sings Cumming, who’s not only been part of an emerging young band, but also spent time in the youth-besotted fashion world. A telling line: “If I could do it I would take her in my arms/ I would unwrong all his wrongs.” “I’m not saying I want people to feel uncomfortable,” comments Cumming about the song. “But it is supposed to make you think, about age or being a woman or just the time frame in which you have to do things. And fighting against that.”
“Twentytwo” is only one example of a gentler side of Sunflower Bean that’s on display on the new album. While the trio remains a guitar band at its core, new and different textures were allowed in this time around. “What we’ve figured out in the couple of years since Human Ceremony is I think that we did a lot of the rock stuff, and didn’t get much time with the sweeter side,” says Faber. “And it just kind of felt right to explore this sweeter side and dive deep into that.” For the drummer that meant, “allowing each element its own space to live and breathe.” And for Cumming, that space meant room to truly sing like never before, on the sublime “Memoria” and “Only a Moment”, the closest Sunflower Bean has ever come to a ballad. “We’re a rock band, and we would never want to be a ballad-y band,” she says. “But also I think when you’re like 18 and 19, you need to scream, you know? And in life you’ll always need to scream. But I think before I was a little afraid to show myself as a singer, even to my band mates. And in fact they actually welcomed it, and we were able to push ourselves. I think if anything, after making this we’re the most well-rounded we’ve ever been.”
Unlike Human Ceremony, essentially a compilation of songs Sunflower Bean had created while still in their teens, over the first two and a half years of the band’s life, Twentytwo in Blue was built in a more compact, dedicated time frame. When Kivlen, Faber and Cumming completed a near 200-show world tour on Thanksgiving of 2016, the plan was for the trio to take a well-earned and extended break. But soon enough, the creative juices were flowing. “By mid-December we were already back in Jacob’s basement on Long Island just working on ideas,” recalls Kivlen. Once again, the band collaborated with longtime producer and champion Matt Molnar (Friends) and engineer Jarvis Taveniere (Woods), while new to the creative team this time was Jacob Portrait (Unknown Mortal Orchestra), on board as co-producer and mixer. “He and Matt kind of worked hand in hand to take the record to the next level,” says Cumming.
In three months the “bones” of the songs were written, and several got live test runs
in March of 2017, at New York’s Terminal 5. Tracking began in early summer, with mixing in early fall-the songs mutating and evolving along the way. “I think we’re constantly trying to push ourselves to make something better,” explains Faber. “And so I think with this we just wanted to dig deep into the songwriting process and really just try to focus on crafting these songs, and building them up. And also having the record just sound really incredible.” When all was said and done, says Cumming, “It was basically a year-December to December.”
If there was a ragged beauty in the gauzy, groovy wall of sound of Human Ceremony and its predecessor, the 2015 EP Show Me Your Seven Secrets, there’s a new directness to these songs, a product of the band’s growing maturity and the insanity of the times we’re in. Twentytwo in Blue is a record made by millennials in solidarity with their own-the most progressive, even revolutionary generation we’ve ever seen. Is it, sonically, a record that suits might call “more accessible”? It’s not hard to imagine the band picking up new disciples because of it. But while Sunflower Bean welcome anyone to the party, unlike our president they’re not concerned so much with the size of a crowd as with connecting with every person in it. “I think one word that always comes to mind when I think about this record is lovable,” says Cumming. “I think we all really want the record to be lovable. I want the songs to be something that someone can get attached to, and have be a part of them. Because that’s what I look for in songs myself, and that’s the kind of experience we want to give to others. It’s cherished by us, and we just want to share that with people, and communicate that with people.”
Purr began in 2017 as the side project of born and raised New Yorkers, Eliza Callahan and Jack Staffen, who have been songwriting partners since childhood. Callahan, then a student at Columbia and Staffen at NYU, set out to expand the sound of their project, Jack and Eliza, which simply comprised of their two electric guitars and vocals.
Purr takes some cues from a lineage of dual-lead-vocalist bands with roots in the late 60s and 70s. The pair fluidly oscillates between singing in harmony and unison. Their vocals often blend together to forge what at times can eerily sound like a single voice before separating out again. Their classic songwriting style too makes nods to the same era as do their tones, though in their arrangement and with their distinct vocal sound Purr evades pastiche and throwback, creating a sound that is both contemporary and their own.
In the summer between their junior and senior years of college, they enlisted Sam Glick, a friend of Callahan’s from Columbia to record their first songs as Purr which took place in Callahan’s kitchen. Glick then stepped in on bass and brought along his childhood friend Max Freedberg to play drums. Purr self-released the first two songs they recorded together in the kitchen, “Bad Advice” and “Painted Memory,” in February 2018. In Spring 2018, they recorded their debut album with Jonathan Rado (producer of Whitney, The Lemon Twigs) in Los Angeles.
Her ballads recall the low-lit charm of Tobias Jesso Jr or the hushed immediacy of Phoebe Bridgers. Her rock songs rev and howl with the intensity of Mitski or Hop Along. But whether the volume is up or down, 21-year-old New York native Samia draws from the same well of sharp-witted lyricism as forebears old and new -- from Liz Phair to Patti Smith to Josh Tillman.
Tillman is a unique case. Name-checked in an early song of Samia's called "The Night Josh Tillman Listened To My Song," the Father John Misty frontman later discovered the send-up of his I Love You, Honeybear standout and has since professed his love for it online. Of course, it's no surprise that her heros are falling for her. Samia is 21, but her songs aren't. They're the sort of emotional tantrums and last-call thesis statements that feel like they've been there forever, just waiting for someone to come around and sing them.
Samia's knack is unique to her 21 years: that ability to tap into youthful angst with a precocious wisdom we seem to lose as we get older. Take for example, "Django," a tongue-in-cheek ode to the depth and fleeting nature of teenage sorrow, both drop-dead serious and total farce.
"I wrote most of Django at 17, crying in the bathtub, looking down at myself from above my body and finding the scene to be hilarious," says Samia. "I had to use the humor in my sorrow; there was a lot of it. I'm not sure how much it comes through on the record but I really was trying to make fun of myself."
But while self-deprecation runs rampant through her slowly growing catalog of a half-dozen songs, her lyrics absolutely singe when they find targets worthy of their fire. "Someone Tell The Boys" is a timely anthem and a blistering takedown of the mindlessness of macho mansplainers. "I have anecdotes to offer, they won't do much for this gentleman, cause his every thought's a sacrament and his every word's been said," she seethes in one verse. "Someone tell the boys they're not important anymore," goes the chorus.
Meanwhile, on "21" Samia turns her sights inward, wrestling with her own self-image, cider in hand. "I weigh a hundred and fucking something pounds," she sings. "That makes me almost good. It is nice to be a hero, but it's better to be anything that anyone could want in a woman." But only moments later, she seems to reconsider her sentiment, boiling over with indignation, "You don't have to be an ingenue and there is nothing wrong with you as long as you make your family proud."
"I was worried during the year leading up to my 21st birthday because I'd always thought there was something I should have figured out by then." says Samia. "It was really liberating to turn 21 without having figured that out; I was happy knowing that I had a lot of love in my life and was doing my very best." It's safe to say that, for now, Samia's very best will do just fine.