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Jul/Aug 2004 Reviews Rants & Faves Sugarplum Fairies Introspective Raincoat Student Music
For Introspective Raincoat Student Music, its sophomore album and first new work in six years, the Vienna-via-California duo Sugarplum Fairies (vocalist/lyricist Silvia Ryder and multi-instrumentalist Ben Bohm with a constantly recycling membership) triangulates an atmospheric position between the morose shoe-gaze lilt of Mazzy Star ("Touchdown or Fly"?), the dreamy folk-pop of Cowboy Junkies ("Tomorrow's Always One Day Late"?), and the uptown drone of the Velvet Underground ("Sun"?). Although those reference points suggest a soporific, amorphous sound, Ryder's breathy vocals cloak her tartly edgy lyrics. Bohm's musical accompaniment is simple in execution but rich in concept, as acoustic and electric guitars drift casually through the mix with touches of cello, mandolin, melodica, and glockenspiel.
By Brian Baker - Harp Magazine


Jerry Maxwell, the best social studies teacher at North Farmington High School in Farmington Hills, Michigan, reminded my classmates and me in "World War II" and "Old West" that when we submit a research paper or review, the title we choose is essential. The title sets the scene, the mood, the atmosphere and expectations of the whole submission. Maxwell encouraged us to conceive eye-grabbing titles, like the one a student turned in for a paper on hunting: "Blowing Away Bambi." For my review of a book on lesser-known Old West gunslingers, I chose "Big Guns, Big Balls." For its sophomore album of swooning, ethereal, moody indie pop, Sugarplum Fairies came up with Introspective Raincoat Student Music. I don't know if Sylvia Ryder and Ben Bohm ever met Maxwell, but they certainly dipped their great second album in the perfect title.

Solely on name, Introspective Raincoat Student Music conjures up images of Echo & the Bunnymen, A Girl Called Eddy, The Ocean Blue, and hazy Sunday afternoons at central Pennsylvanian universities, among other things. It also brings to mind trippy, lazy conversations that wander with streams of consciousness.

The album opens with the brief instrumental "Lunchbox" and continues with "Touchdown or Fly." Recalling Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval but with more acute vocals and tangible lyrics, Ryder sings: "I thought you always hated / Those lipgloss girls you dated / With skinny legs and all that�You hold your head up high / But sometimes you cry / You can't make up your mind / To touchdown or fly / But you keep your head up high." It's a good verbal preparation for a hovering collection of spaced out songs. Ryder sings with higher notes amid Bohm's sweeping electronic orchestration on the outstanding "Sugarfree" and lunges at your heart with lyrics like, "The silence between words always hurts the worst / 'Cause I know she's your kind of girl / Sweet but sugarfree / In your world she's the perfect girl."

While "Tomorrow's Always One Day Late" continues Sugarplum Fairies' deliberate, muggy approach, "Sticky Summer" has an uplifting Parisian feel with Bernhard Panzias' accordion and the romantic lyrics Ryder shares with Georg Altziebler. "The State We're In" benefits from Bohm's slightly stuttered melodic structure, as Ryder discusses a failed relationship. The first loud rocker on Introspective Raincoat Student Music, "Sun" finds Sugarplum Fairies in Hole territory but with better vocals and no total abandonment of melody. "Sun" is short and to the point. Sugarplum Fairies emphasizes its tender, nostalgic side with "Tuesday Headache," as Ryder tiredly sings: "Tuesday headache / You make my day break into cornflakes / English shortbread and crumbs of memories filled with you / The noisy chatter of the radio is helping me to forget what I've not known." There are mild rock elements and even minimally jarring aspects to "Tuesday Headache," but Bohm mixes them perfectly with Ryder's singing.

"Some Girl" features Sugarplum Fairies in a more mellow mood with Ryder's vocals bringing up a vision of a happier, female Thom Yorke. "#2 Kraft Paper Bag" is a casual, choppy track with folky guitars and a domestically detailed plot. While "Void" features rain drop allusions and Ryder's worn, experienced, yet crystal vocals in another nostalgic narrative, Bohm guides "Sleepover" with an electronic sheen and buoying guitars as Ryder sincerely asks the chorus of "Are you alright / Are you alright baby / 'Cause I'm right here for you." Bohm also wraps "4 AM and Nothing New" in gentle strings, and the school-centric "Geek" finds Ryder softly rocking.

"Common Sense" hovers almost as if its pace is slowed at times just enough to prevent the rhythm and lyrical context from irreversibly separating. Ryder's words are especially effective on this dynamic song, which features heightened guitars that atmospherically explore and inspire near the track's end. In one of the song's more sensitive moments, Ryder declares: "Putting words around a thought / Wish I could trade the traits that I have not / If life has knocked you off your feet it/It's time to get down on your knees." Her sighs and Bohm's background vocals make "Common Sense" a soothing highlight of Introspective Raincoat Student Music.

For its album closer, Sugarplum Fairies offers the short, blunt, and reflective "Crossroads of My Mind." It's a surprising yet complementary ending to an album of personal, calming, pensive music. Sugarplum Fairies' stylistic approach to its excellent second album is similar across melody, lyrics, and CD booklet visuals; this is unquestionably introspective raincoat student music, and the honesty in title and creation can't be over-appreciated.










- Delusions Of Adequacy


For most of my friends, words like "fucking" and "bitchassshit" function as commas or colons -- breaths between more communicative, socially acceptable words. You don't even hear the curses after a while. But I know one guy who has made swearing an art form. He does it rarely, saving it up for months at a time, until finally something makes him so mad that he lets loose a solitary "hell" or "fuck". The world seems to shake before him every time -- quite an achievement, considering he's a computer programmer.

The Sugarplum Fairies know this trick, and they use it to great effect, albeit in modified form. Their brand of quiet, gorgeously-rendered, pop-infused rock is so delicate and subdued as to make each slightly unusual touch, every unexpected twist, no matter how small, feel like magic. It's a delicate balance to walk the line between convention and boredom, but the Sugarplum Fairies maintain it beautifully, periodically stepping off into strange, electrifying realms. It's not that these fairies are so amazing, and it isn't that my friend has a special technique for saying the word "fuck"; there is pretty much one way to do what the band and the friend, respectively, are doing, and we've seen a lot of both. But my friend and the Sugarplum Fairies are so smart about their shock value that they can shock where others would be protected by whatever part of the brain filters out boredom and linguistic monotony.

Take, for instance, the lethal combination of "Tomorrow's One Day Too Late" and "Sticky Summer". The former, a subtly country-inflected showcase for Silvia Ryder's deep, breathy vocals and multi-instrumentalist/composer Ben Bohm's unlikely musical restraint, lulls listeners into a warm, comfortable state of relaxation. Then the latter comes along, with its deep, deep, unsettling bouncing brass and subliminal percussion. Ryder sings, embittered, "Sticky Summer and forever tired / I'm getting number every time I'm lied to." Creepy and vaudevillian in his showy, waxed-moustache way, Georg Altziebler invades the song with mocking words: "Wearing brand new clothes without a date now / There's an amateur in every trade though." Surprisingly, Ryder seems to embrace him. They sing a warm and unsettling duet. "Memories like dead bouquets wrapped around stale clichés / There's a reason that you try to wish upon the moon..."

"Sticky Summer" is the album's standout track; it's a welcome surprise that the band had the wisdom not to dull the strange juju of Altziebler's one and only appearance by asking him to do more for the album. But then, wisdom is the final and most important adjective to associate with the Sugarplum Fairies. It would be great to see them really cut loose some day, but for now they have the restraint, calculation and general coolheadedness required to be an oddity in this decade's notoriously histrionic scene. Most bands will abuse your time, but this one has the good manners to earn it. - Splendid


A scrumptious assortment of big and dreamy pop numbers is what you'll find on the 16-track disc from the duo known as Sugarplum Fairies, which sounds like Belle and Sebastian crossed with The Cardigans. Lots of tasty musical layers awaken the senses on tracks such as "Sugarfree", making this band not only well named, but also a delicious delight to the eardrums. If you like lie-in-your-hammock on a Saturday afternoon in July, airy pop songs like "The State We're In" whose melody lingers amongst the clouds, chances are the Carpenter-esque style meets Bacharach songsmith of Sugarplum Fairies will reel you in.

- In Music We Trust


OK, this is what I envision when I listen to the Introspective Raincoat Student Music: steamy, warm bubble baths amidst cool summer nights; long, leisurely walks on crisp fallen leaves; sipping Chablis while gazing at waves crashing on sandy shores; Intimate sessions filled with passion and love-laden eye gazing along candle-ridden backgrounds. The funny thing is, although the music is peaceful, melodic and sultry, the lyrics have a dark, mysterious theme throughout. Yet isn't love - no matter how pure - dark, mysterious, and almost always abstract in content? The Sugarplum Fairies is the kind of music you want to share with that special person in those intimate moments where connecting is fundamental.

I find myself being nothing but overly charmed by this Vienna-raised and California-based duo, Silvia Ryder and Ben Bohm. Although there is an ever-rotating supporting cast, this pair of talented musicians is the heart and nucleus to the brilliantly crafted sound contained within. In their second release, Introspective Raincoat Student Music, the team has joined up with drummer Keith Mitchell of Mazzy Star, electric bassist Miiko Watanabe, upright bassist Warren Kaye and keyboard player Louis Durra, all of various musical arrangements. Although the instrumentation is warm and inviting, the lyrics and haunting vocals are what lingers behind.

The compositions are continually laced and infused with ideas of relationships, life and the inner most thoughts and struggles that everyone deals with, but few can articulate into words. The second track "Lunchbox" is a slow, melodic tune with cryptic lyrics stating "another illustration of diverted desperation has left you kind of jaded/you hold your head up high but sometime you cry." "Sugarfree" seems to be a love-lorn tale with verses cooing "And I know she's your kind of girl/sweet but sugarfree/in your world she's the perfect girl." My favorite track, "Sticky Summer," has accompanying vocals from Georg Altziebler, AKA Son Of The Velvet Rat, which creates a tune that is haunting in sound and melody, and contains a vibe very akin the wondrous Nick Cave. "Some girl" is a touching; deep melody with dejected lyrics that carry a melancholy story. The dreamy number contains verses stating, "everyone loves you girl/but nothing's good enough for you/ you sabotage your own cure/nothing's good enough for you/all the boys that wanted to nail you in the trophy room/they never knew what you have been through." "Common Sense" a nostalgic ballad looking back on the past youth and naivety echos words of "putting words around a thought/wish I could trade the traits that I have not/ if life has knocked you off your feet it's time to get down on your knees."

Although their sound has been frequently compared to Mazzy Star, Belle & Sebastian, The Cardigans, and even The Carpenters, I find them to be in an entire league of their own. There is moments where I hear a twinge of Aimee Mann, or a touch of The Sundays, or a musical vibe close to Cat Power, but then the music washes over me and I find them nothing but divinely unique. The music seems to be surreal or teeming with qualities of a dream like state. Sugarplum Fairies is nothing less than delicious arrays of brilliant, introspective lyrics, vocals that are calming and hypnotizing and instrumentation that is superb and soothing in effect.

Overall, the album is a magnificently, glowingly composed masterpiece. Long strolls along dewy, green grassy pastures. Spring days filled with puffy, billowing clouds and fresh cut lilacs. That queasy feeling of butterflies that sets in when infatuated with a new romantic love. All these pleasurable scenarios are what come to mind when enjoying the exquisite works of Sugarplum Fairies. Their talent is apparent and their future bright. The material is so refreshing and inviting, and the tracks abundantly full of longing for true love and a deeper, more enlightened understanding of life. It's the kind of music that makes you feel like sharing it with that special someone, then taking it home to mama. - One Times One


Seemingly from out of nowhere come Los Angeles based musicians, the Sugarplum Fairies, with their release of a solid and melodic album of excellent songwriting and sultry vocals. The band's core members are vocalist Silvia Ryder, about whom comparisons to Nico are inevitable and accurate, and multi-instrumentalist Ben Bohm. The sixteen songs from Introspective Raincoat Student Music are generally soft and shoe gazing, but there are moments of country twang ("Touchdown or Fly") and Kurt Weill-esque gutter musical influence ("Sticky Summer"). On the latter song, guest vocalist Georg Altziebler takes the second verse with a dripping, creepy manner, all affected vibrato, the effect of which is enhanced when Ryder joins in with her nonchalant enunciation. Keith Mitchell, Mazzy Star's drummer, played on the record, and his restrained style fits wonderfully with the music, which is always interesting but never rises above a decibel level of six or so ­ totally arbitrary, yes, but the point is made. The band has been licensing their songs to several television shows (interesting) and been getting some play on NPR and college stations (makes a bit more sense). Introspective Raincoat Student Music is a diverse musical collage of style and feeling, two areas that Sugarplum Fairies are definitely experts in.

- Lost At Sea


There are albums that simply get you. They get your mood, your approach to music and, in this case, your absolute love for simple melodies. On ...Student Music, Silvia Ryder guides these songs with a breathy but dense voice. Even though she doesn't have a wide vocal range, the equivalent of a sunnier Nico (to whom, incidentally, Ryder bears a physical resemblance as well), her power to enrapture is undeniable. Lyrics aren't more than simple word combinations stimulating thoughts you wish you'd had ("Necklines drop on birthdays / and I know she's your kind of girl / sweet but sugar-free.") Among softly strummed guitars, an e-bow, mandolin, piano, glockenspiel and occasional Mazzy Star moments (maybe because MS drummer Keith Mitchell was recruited for this album), this duo from Vienna, stationed in California, manages to represent the complicated stages of being broken-hearted, depressed, funny, hot and spaced out all at once, and without complications. - Weekly Dig Boston


From the first hesitantly-voiced notes Silvia Ryder sings on the Sugarplum Fairies' ''Introspective Raincoat Student Music, the Nico comparisons will fly. And when the languid, slightly twangy guitars make their entrance after the first minute of the second track, "Touchdown or Fly," listeners will exclaim, "That sounds like Mazzy Star!" (Not altogether surprising since Mazzy Star drummer Keith Mitchell was on hand for the album.) But one would be wise to look past these comparisons and appreciate the Sugarplum Fairies for what they are: a talented band with intriguing lyrics and charismatic melodies.

Ryder's breathy, hazy voice reveals her heritage ­ a slight accent colors her singing, giving it texture and character. The Vienna-born vocalist co-wrote all the lyrics with band mate Ben Bohm and the words hover around similar themes: heartbreak, disappointment, misunderstandings and wistfulness. But it's not all gray skies ­ a twinge of hopefulness permeates the songs as well. This gives the record a decidedly bittersweet timbre, one perfect for facing a breakup or a melancholy Sunday. Lines like, "Memories like dead bouquets wrapped around with stale cliches," and "The silence between words always hurt the worst," and "You're the one who calls it quits and I never thought we'd end like this," let you know these songs were written from a dark and authentic place. Perhaps the best line, one that demonstrates a hint of a silver lining among all the gray clouds, is from "#2 Kraft Paper Bag": "Happiness is a bean in a paper bag full of dreams / Maybe the rain must fall to soften the soil." The simple and beautiful imagery of those words delicately enclose the message that even when things seem their worst, the rain always softens the earth to support new life and hope.

I could write all day about the exquisite songwriting, Ryder's entrancing voice and the way the album wraps you up like a slightly scratchy yet comforting wool blanket. But what I really want to say is: how do you knit around someone's face (see cover)? - Sponic


Silvia Ryder and Ben Bohm are Sugarplum Fairies. Their second release, INTROSPECTIVE RAINCOAT STUDENT MUSIC, is comprised of 16 delicate and vocally-driven tracks. Silvia Ryder showers the listener with gentle and dreamy vocals, while presenting reflective lyrics that would intrigue any curious soul. The entire album is laden with numerous instruments (piano, accordion, cello, upright bass, and tuba, to name a few), creating a comforting atmosphere. Moreover, a refreshing combination of rhythm acoustic and subtle electric guitar can be seen in several tracks, ("Touchdown or Fly", "Some Girl", and "Common Sense"). Sugarplum Fairies achieve a simple sound while leaving a complex feeling, ideal for a midnight drive on a lonely road. - Scratch Magazine


Everything about Introspective Raincoat Student Music-its lyrics, melodies, artwork, photography and, most glaringly, its title-projects a time of stasis in life. These are midnight-hour songs, glass of red wine in hand, wondering what ever became of that sweet boy who left you for that vapid club girl. Silvia Ryder is an enchanting vocalist cut from the same cloth as Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval, but her lyrics have a sharper edge to them (the very first line is "I thought you always hated those lip gloss girls you dated/With skinny legs and all that"). Believing that the tracks on their last album (Flake) were overproduced, Ryder and Ben Bohm set out for a more lo-fi approach on this release, centered almost entirely around slow and mid-tempo songs. While there isn't anything as immediately bracing as Flake's "10 Cents Philosophies," the album, as a whole, feels more complete and consistent.

This is a local band that does things differently- instead of recording with a producer who wanted to carve them into the Portishead niche, Ryder formed her own label. Now, for their follow-up, they delve further into Bohm's spacey pop arrangements instead of chasing after a harder-rocking commercial formula. While the album eschews overt hooks, there are some quietly contagious riffs sprinkled throughout, such as on the lovely, breathy "Tuesday Headache" and "Sleepover." Introspective Raincoat Student Music has few radio shots outside of KCRW, but the underexposure will make them even more of a selfish pleasure when it comes out of your own stereo. - Entertainment Today


Discography

"Flake"? (Starfish Records, 1999)
"Introspective Raincoat Student Music"? (Starfish Records, 2003)
"Country International Records"? (Starfish Records, 2006)

Photos

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Bio

The Sugarplum Fairies are comprised of Vienna natives Silvia Ryder (vocals) and Ben Bohm (guitars, background vocals), supplemented by an array of rotating guest musicians. The sound of SPF bridges the transatlantic gap with an amalgamation of European guitar pop and Americana folksiness, all tied together by Ryder's sultry, hypnotic vocals. In contrast to the conceptual lo-fi approach of their acclaimed sophomore CD "Introspective Raincoat Student Music" SPF's upcoming release "Country International Records" veers from sleepy shoegaze pop to bouncy D.I.Y. indie rock, all with a subtle infusion of country-noir and the occasional hint of eclectic Vaudeville.
For "Country International Records"? SPF have teamed up with Ken Coomer of Wilco fame and Charlie Brocco (George Harrison, Jeff Lynne) in Nashville.