Looks can be deceiving, but that doesn’t mean they always are. Case in point: Sunflower Bean, whose aesthetic has always been very much in tune with its sound. On the cover of their first LP, Human Condition, Julia Cumming, Nick Kivlen, and Jacob Faber posed in black, surrounded by a whimsical array of clocks. The image was the perfect establishing shot for the New Yorkers, introducing them to fans and critics as something right out of a rock reverie. Two years later, the cover of Twentytwo in Blue showed the band in costumes that evoked the glamour of the 70s—which made sense, as the record gave off strong Fleetwood Mac energy. The King of the Dudes EP marks a departure from that style. The album art shows a soda can exploding, a step away from the carefully curated photoshoots of the band’s past. Accordingly, each track is quick and fizzy, but not quite as substantial as it could be.
All of the tracks on King of the Dudes are under four minutes. This is an exciting choice—many of the greatest rock and roll stars stuck to similar lengths—but none of the songs here use that time to do anything too original. The title track sounds like something you might hear at a DIY show in your favorite intimate venue and nod along to perfunctorily, wanting to project onto casually empowered lyrics like “I know what I want” and “I can be your queen,” but not fully feeling the feelings you desire. It’s fantastic to see Cumming casting aside all ambiguity and asserting her dominance, but the song doesn’t fire the starting gun that the EP needs it to. Still, the lyric “aqua seafoam shame” is a fun Easter egg—an allusion to the lyrics of “All Apologies” by Nirvana. (It’s not the first time Sunflower Bean has referenced the band—“Puppet Strings” from Twentytwo in Blue is comprised of Nirvana lyrics that lead guitarist Nick Kivlen misheard as a child.)
“Come For Me,” another empowerment anthem, is next. Where “King of the Dudes” was laid-back—the cool girl on campus proving that she can skate with the boys—“Come For Me” is just as to-the-point as its title suggests. It has a bit of a Pat Benatar vibe; think of it as an R-rated “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” While it’ll surely get the crowds riled up at concerts, the lyrics are rather hit-and-miss. “I felt the jewelry of a man disillusioned/As I wished upon his star” strikes a stunning balance between opulence and fierceness, but phrases like “If you got the balls to meet me in the alley” and “Just like your favorite movie star” are too reliant on cliché to be powerful.
Thematically, “Fear City” is a moment of frustration—but Cumming is somehow at her most powerful here. During the chorus, her voice soars, revealing deeper layers of vulnerability with each note. “The Big One” is the most abstract track on the album; notable lyrics include “When I’m born, put me in a blanket of silk and women/Feed me from your breast, let me revel in it/Formulate me in a world that I can’t live in.” The images are intriguing, but unfortunately, they largely go unexplored.
It would have been fascinating to see Sunflower Bean play around with more daring song structures and figurative language on King of the Dudes, as it did on prior releases. Alas, its 12 minutes come and go without leaving much of a memory. The band has already proven that it has enough energy and artistry to go around; let’s hope it lives up to this potential on its next release.