By Steve Scheibal
Meet Sunflower Bean, a three-piece band from New York City. They make the ’90s sound prettier than the actual ’90s.
Their set at the Austin Convention Center Radio Day Stage on Thursday afternoon played like a travel book on the world that Kurt Cobain wrought — a dash of Sonic Youth here, a spoonful of Soundgarden there, all sorts of Smashing Pumpkins, liberally applied.
It turns out that, a generation later, what was lumped together as Alternative Music back then seems a lot less conflicted now. Sunflower Bean got to skip the awkward negotiation between punk, grunge, shoe-gazing, power pop and new wave, along with the irony addiction that made these conversations somehow both more tolerable and more annoying. (The band also didn’t have to weather the decimation of the music industry — no small thing.)
So Sunflower Bean can just walk out on a Convention Center stage with some pretty melodies, cool guitar licks that don’t degenerate into solos, distortion that’s calibrated to maximum tastefulness, and a name like Sunflower Bean. They know how to be noisy but not droning, pretty but not silly, jagged but not cutting.
And it’s great. It’s rocking and sunny, engagingly textured and clear-eyed. It’s reminiscence without nostalgia.
(As a side note, it surely helped, oddly enough, that they ended up in a ballroom at the Austin Convention Center, which had fantastic acoustics for a room that felt like, well, a Convention Center ballroom. If you get a chance to swing by the Radio Day Stage, it’s worth a listen.)
Sunflower Bean has been making the rounds on indie radio — Thursday’s set was simulcast on KCSN radio in Los Angeles — and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of audience they end up with. It’d be great if teens and millennials embraced them with the sort of fervor that their parents had for, say, the Black Crowes (“See, son, my music really is timeless!”).
At the very least, they’re a great choice for people who miss the ’90s the way they miss their 20s, but who don’t want to have to give up their iPads reliving it.