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  • Evan Laslo

Briston Maroney Blooms with Debut Album Sunflower, by GraciAnn Hicks

After falling in love with Freakin’ Out On The Interstate, fans anticipated Briston Maroney’s debut album. He graciously released Sunflower in early April as a visual album.

Fans on YouTube praise these musical and visual aspects, but the album is better without the video component. It’s nonsensical and inconsistent. I appreciate the sentiment, but Briston should have only released videos for the singles. As a whole, the album feels more like random footage with “trippy” edits.

The video is broken into two halves: The first half is five songs about where we find beauty while the second half is the inverse. If the intention is irony, then he should make it more obvious, and if he’s serious, then, in retrospect, I cringe at that waste of 42 minutes of my life.

There are moments clearly meant to be funny, like the end of Sinkin’ when he breaks character and laughs, or when he interrupts It’s Still Cool If You Don’t to announce “I’m sure at this point in the video, I would usually come back in with a really riveting performance where I bend my body in a funny way or do something quirky, but that’s not what I wanna do. In these trying times, I really wanna encourage you to not only take care of yourself, but—” at which point he’s cut off when a telephone pole falls on him.

On the music front, Briston diverts from his established sound in favor of a fuller production that leans more into the pop realm. John Congleton, who has produced for more than 150 popular artists from Lana Del Ray to Marilyn Manson to The Killers and more in between, produced Sunflower.

The quality and color of the production reminds me of bands signed to Fueled By Ramen, like Panic! At the Disco and Twenty One Pilots. The smooth production of these songs nearly overwhelms listeners with the plethora of small details on a single track. Songs like Bottle Rocket and Rollercoaster possess a similarly intense production.

Although Briston explores a different sound, it still has the charm that attracted listeners to him in the first place. His rich vocals wash over listeners, yet the desperation behind his voice commands attention. Hazy guitars and dynamic melodies remind listeners that he’s changed his sound, not completely reinvented it.

Influence from 80s music shines through as warm synths energize the chorus of Why. I’ve never wanted to dance to Briston’s music, but this track made me groove for days. The lowkey tune Cinnamon further displays older influence as it references songs and albums from the 70s–90s, including The Cure’s Friday I’m in Love, Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide, Neil Young’s Harvest Moon, and Elton John’s Tiny Dancer. The chorus depicts long-distance love as it closes with the line “I’ll be home soon to sing these songs for you.”

The ballad Deep Sea Diver also shines on this album. The first verse excites the senses as it opens “Hands were shaking, I was scared to death. Skin was clammy, I was short of breath. Shirt smelled like all my regrets. Shouldn't have had that seventh cigarette.” The song claims a spot as one of my favorites for how it meshes multiple genres and infects listeners with earworm through the melodic chorus.

Other tracks felt lackluster. “Sinkin’” agitates me with its repetitive melody. “It’s Still Cool If You Don’t” and “Rollercoaster” may be decent songs, but they fail to meet my standard for Briston’s music. There’s a difference between exploring a different sound and creating the same sound on multiple tracks of an album.

As a whole, the album flows from one song to the next. The first half delivers a more playful sound while the last few songs mellow out with acoustic driven tracks and more personal lyrics.

The final track Say My Name has a warmth to it that wraps listeners in a deep embrace through the echoing acoustic guitar and Briston’s trembling voice on the line “And if I can’t keep a hold on all the things that I’m forgivin’, what’s the point in feelin’ anything at all?” The album doesn’t end with a burst, but with a heavy heart that creates space for listeners to process what they just heard before they inevitably dive in for another listen.

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