Sunflower Bean: Headful of Sugar Album Review

At no point does Sunflower Bean sound out of their depth; if they adjusted their coordinates to include a Dan Nigro cowrite or talky post-punk, they probably would. The hooks, the flashy guitar solos, the profanity that will serve as the quote in every blurb: Head full of sugar worked really hard to sound effortless. But coolness is a zero-sum game on a record that, like… twenty-two in blue, strives to say something about the way we live. Head full of sugar washes Cumming and guitarist/singer Nick Kivlen’s experiences as “outsiders disillusioned in the modern world”, through “the lived experience of late capitalism” – things that are much harder to discern in music if you don’t have the press material first read.

I can say that “Roll the Dice” succeeds in its attempt to wring a pop song out of the GameStop stock manipulation fiasco, because the nagging hook (“I just want to win, win, win, win, win!”) will almost certainly appear in the trailer when Hulu or Netflix buy the rights to the docudrama. But like the recent spate of scammer-core limited series, Sunflower Bean refrains from making any kind of judgment or opinion beyond “I feel sorry for our country. But this is great content.” The breakup songs know exactly what reactions they hope to elicit: “empowerment bop!” “epic clapback!”—although the performances leave them emotionally inert. Instead, “Who made you do this?” and “Stand By Me ” resemble the interstitial music of sell sunset, the lyrics are relentlessly designed to embellish someone else’s flare or glow rather than creating a scene of their own.

At no point does Head full of sugar come across as cynical, though the central premise falls apart at the slightest bit of scrutiny: this is a largely beloved, well-connected, and unabashedly accessible rock band trying to convince as the voice of outcasts obeying their most reckless impulses. Studio perfectionism and social debauchery have long been reconcilable, but the dissonance between the drunkard of “I Don’t Have Control Sometimes” and the rigorously market-tested KROQ core bounce is too obvious to be unintentional. Besides, alienation is in the eye of the beholder, and Sunflower Bean writes candidly about their particular experience on “In Flight.” Reflecting on a rare instance of touring downtime and the connection to his Long Island roots, Kivlen sings, “Nothing changes in this town / The people die or they move,” adds a desperate punch line: “Everyone but me.” It’s the pinnacle of head full of sugar, not because it is the strongest hook or the tightest harmony. It is the most compelling example of Sunflower Bean writing from the heart. They wear it well.

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Sunflower Bean: Head Full of Sugar

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