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‘Sunflower’ reasons to find peace in life’s complexities

Briston Maroney’s dynamic debut album is an elevated departure from his earlier work, sharing a record of his journey to self-fulfillment

<p>In his debut album 'Sunflower,' Briston Maroney strives to leave the angst of his earlier projects in the rearview as he negotiates the terms of life and love — a sign of maturity — despite the adverse anxieties surrounding them.&nbsp;</p>

In his debut album 'Sunflower,' Briston Maroney strives to leave the angst of his earlier projects in the rearview as he negotiates the terms of life and love — a sign of maturity — despite the adverse anxieties surrounding them. 

Angsty music has comforted the ears of the misunderstood for decades. A musician all too familiar with creating this style of music is Tennessee-bred Briston Maroney, an alternative, folk-hearted indie rocker who transcends genre. In his debut album “Sunflower,” Maroney strives to leave the angst of his earlier projects in the rearview as he negotiates the terms of life and love — a sign of maturity — despite the adverse anxieties surrounding them. 

A sequel to the coming-of-age narrative in his discography, “Sunflower” is simultaneously familiar and fresh, forcing listeners to recognize the artistry Maroney has developed over the last four years. He created a short film as a visual accompaniment for the album which blurs the already smudged lines separating reality from imagination, a quality present in his intricate melodies. For someone who romanticizes life, not in the pursuit of perfection, but in adoration of its impurities, “Sunflower” is an embodiment of the soundtrack in their head. 

“Sinkin’” quickly sets the tone of the album, sonically begging to stream through the speakers of a car cruising down the interstate. The lead-off track subtly alludes to Maroney’s earlier EP “Indiana,” which discusses the pains of outgrowing people and places without knowing a way out. In the second verse of the track, Maroney personifies the aforementioned EP, singing “Looks like Indiana / Packed up her bags / And went out and got it.”

The energy remains high in “Bottle Rocket,” a highly anticipated song for loyal fans who have awaited the song's inclusion on a record. A new stylistic endeavor for Maroney, distorted, echoed vocals grace the chorus of the song, evoking the sensory visual of strobing lights as a car drives through a tunnel. 

The mid tempo proclamation of self-awareness in “It’s Still Cool If You Don’t” accepts the uncertainty of the future. A Cars-esque 1980s pop synthesizer scratches an itch music seldom satisfies. “Freeway” introduces the most honest sentiments thus far, mediating the desire to be free while still feeling contained. Maroney’s detailed imagery describes a scene designed for the movies — running down the freeway without fear of the consequences. Explicit references to roads and cars symbolize Maroney’s growth as an artist, moving to a brighter place mentally and creatively. 

Melodic structuring induces a nostalgic trance in “Deep Sea Diver.” Maroney flexes his lyrical prowess in the second verse, providing an anecdote of a run-in with a drug dealer. He grapples with his own passivity as he reveals that he was not forthright about his aversion to using Ketamine. Maroney asks, “Why are we scared to say what’s on our minds? / Fear of rejection or some selfish pride?” In doing so, he addresses a desire to find an answer and change his ways amidst feelings of despair.

“Why” is the foothold most closely tying the album to Maroney’s earlier work, although it seamlessly fits into his developed sound. It is a moment of self-deprecation, acknowledging that moving on doesn't mean your past disappears. A dirty guitar riff leads into a chorus with heavy drums. The helpless question, “But why can’t I be someone else tonight?” stings with the crack of Maroney’s emotive, strained vocal. The theme of internal adversity continues in “Rollercoaster.”

Maroney uncharacteristically includes a ballad with the track “Cinnamon,” which has a playful chorus filled with allusions to songs from the likes of the Grateful Dead and Elton John. He sings in a rare chest voice and signals his artistic growth, adding dimension to the body of work. The song is a light breath of new life — a moment suspended in the beauty of loving someone. 

The journey to embracing life and all of its complexities climaxes in the anthemic song “The Kids.” In the second verse, the lyrics, “When did everything start to feel alright? / Alright, I won’t ask what I don’t wanna know,” describe an important realization — life, to an extent, is an untamable being, and experiencing highs and lows need not be questioned. 

The stripped-down, acoustic closer “Say My Name” does not conclude the album with resolve — it is lyrically and melodically an expression of feeling “okay.” Maroney does end with a sign of hope, suggesting “But maybe that’s alright / Another flower grows,” connecting to the album’s title. The sunflower signifies the comfort, beauty and simplicity he strives for in life. 

In an Instagram post to announce the album’s release, Maroney thanked his fans and explained his experience writing the album. “The answers we want about life and love are out there, and through this process, I’ve found how much closer we are than we think,” he stated in the post. His album does not pretend to know these answers, but through art, he imbues fans with hope in the ultimate acquisition of ineffable happiness.

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