For centuries artists have tried to capture the essence of the confusion and joy of being alone in the world. Briston Maroney made his own entry into this effort with his debut album “Sunflower”. Active on the indie scene for several years, Maroney has released three EPs since 2017, with “Indiana” being his most recent in 2019. “Sunflower,” which has a distinctly lighter tone, arrives on ten short tracks, which add up to thirty-four minutes in total. Maroney’s music has well-defined southern folk and rock influences, as well as an emphasis on storytelling. He often explores themes such as love, loss and confusion. They are skillfully conveyed by her moving voice, which is clearly the star of the album. As an artist, Maroney is invested in translating his emotional and physical journeys to his listeners, often exuding the character of an eternal wanderer: a figure many in their twenties can find to tell.
The production showcases Maroney’s voice and the quality of his sound in a way that creates a sense of intimacy. All the musical choices come together to create the illusion that the artist speaks directly to you and lets you enter the emotions he is experiencing. While there are certainly times when Maroney feels less accessible, especially when her vocals are reinforced by more instrumental tension, those times also increase the emotional intensity of the song. Maroney balances these two modes quite well throughout the album so that neither the emotional intensity reflected in the music nor the intimacy of his voice is lost. Even though “Sunflower” is a mostly upbeat album, there are always undertones of quiet desperation in Maroney’s understated vocals which makes the bursting moments so satisfying. The listener can finally hear the full measure of the otherwise suppressed desperation, making songs like “Sinkin ‘” and “Why” shine. “Sunflower” feeds on fun distorted guitar rhythms that give it a somewhat deceptive and consistent tone throughout the album. These are tied together with drums and an acoustic guitar, with other instruments and elements (such as layered vocals) sometimes used for support.
Maroney constructs a narrative exploring the confusion, love, and general sense of being lost in the world, the associated emotions all existing in Maroney’s amalgamation of vulnerable narrators. His lyrics are often addressed directly to the listener or another character, which adds to the intimate tone of the record. Maroney’s overall thoughts are expressed in “Bottle Rocket” when he says, “Come find / I’m the one who will decide my life / It just takes a little while.” The main emotions of the album are handled beautifully and honestly, with lines like “It’s a seven days a week job / Making things harder than they need to be”, which appear in ” Deep Sea Diver ”. The strength of Maroney’s storytelling is evident and a testament to the folk influences of this album. Along with his exploration of the abstract, he constantly presents concrete images suggesting distinct contexts, such as cities and roads. Another repeated common thread concerns doors and locks. In “Bottle Rocket,” Maroney says, “It looks like I forgot / The closed door isn’t always locked,” indicating that he feels trapped and is looking for a way out of his emotional turmoil. A reversal takes place later in the album when Maroney sings “Stay inside, but my doors won’t lock” in “The Kids”. While “The Kids” is all about joy and idealism, other songs such as “It’s Still Cool If You Don’t” are more angsty. Appearing as the third track from “Sunflower” and the first single to be released, “It’s Still Cool If You Don’t” is the best song on the album; the narrator’s uncertainty and vulnerability shine through as he expresses a reserved hope associated with a fear of rejection. The final track, “Say My Name,” features Maroney and an acoustic guitar in a vulnerable reverie of love, loss and acceptance, which reinforces the intimacy of the entire album.
While “Sunflower” is a good first album, some of Maroney’s previous works are stronger. His EP “Carnival” includes five songs that are generally more intense musically and vocally. Not only do they tell a more cohesive story, but each track is excellent and does a brilliant job of harnessing the desperate quality of Maroney’s voice for its full emotional value. Personally, I would prefer to listen to a shorter album in which the quality of writing and narration is stronger than a slightly longer and less coherent album.
Overall, “Sunflower” is a very enjoyable independent listening that features satisfying vocals and vibrant storytelling. Maroney grapples with life in a vulnerable and intimate way that will stay with listeners long after the last track is played.