Sugar Plum Ferry
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Sugar Plum Ferry

| INDIE

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Apr
17
Sugar Plum Ferry @ The Wall

Taipei, Not Applicable, Taiwan

Taipei, Not Applicable, Taiwan

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Music

Press


It’s easy to get lost in Sugar Plum Ferry’s third and latest release, Islands On The Ocean of The Mind (????), the title of which suits their post-rock sound. The album’s six tracks blend into one another through droning rhythms, melodic themes that ebb and flow and recurring waves of electric guitar distortion and crashing drums that wash the melodies away.
The four-piece band, which formed in Taipei in the late 1990s, makes instrumental rock with a cinematic flavor. On Islands, they pick up where they left off from 2007’s Thank You for Reminding Me, in which the CD cover suggested a theme in a snippet of text that read “There’ll be one day we human beings can fly, one day we wear out our shadows.”
That day arrives on Islands. The liner notes consist of more cryptic prose describing how “we got rid of our shadows” and experienced “the joy of freedom.” Along with the album art — graphic novel-like illustrations of an oceanside city seen from a bird-eye’s view and towering buildings that look like concrete forests — this is perhaps one way to make sense of the urgent tempo of the first track, False Awakening (???).
But true to post-rock form, Sugar Plum Ferry is all about soundscapes rather than words. Deerfield at Dusk (????) begins with a quiet, lulling melody on a electric guitar, and builds layer by layer into a dramatic chorus voiced by a horn ensemble. The song shifts back and forth between quiet and loud and sparse and lush.
There is a sad undertone to the entire album, which gets massaged by steady, deliberate grooves from the band’s two guitarists, who switch between slow and dreamy melodic lines and metronome-like strumming. The effect is emotionally numbing on People, People (???).
The album’s best track, Night Celestials (???), flirts with black metal and grunge and is one instance where the band’s normally measured temperament threatens to explode. - Taipei Times


Maybe it sounds pretentious to talk about pretentious music this way, but sometimes it feels that instrumental rock is too self-aware. In other words, some artists in the genre have gone to the nth degree to perfect and display their technical skill, and while this can pay off and be appreciated in numerous ways, the emotional side of the music is left strangely unaddressed-- a paradox of sorts given the style of music at hand where sinewy waves and soil-shifting crashes of guitar are designed to peel away your flesh and make your heart go awry. Given this, it’s refreshing to discover a collective of artists who not only avoid the above-mentioned pitfall, but also don’t simply launch themselves to the opposite side of the spectrum and ignore the mechanics of sound. Compromise may seem like a strange word to use here, but it helps spark an understanding of exactly what Sugar Plum Ferry has achieved on their second full-length, a 5-song, hour long exploration of poignant instrumental soundscapes, balanced with engaging, powerful, technical grace.

Problems are bound to arise on a disc that’s shortest song is just under 10 minutes, but SPF has done a profound job of making sure every moment used serves a purpose for the listener. “One Third Cradle Song" is the perfect launching pad for the entire album and illuminates this principle well. Guitar work that could melt snow introduces us to a track that thrives on light and balmy percussion to bloom: post-rock photosynthesis. A subtle poppiness carries the bass line well past the mid-point of the song, and while “happiness� is a vague tag to slap on a song, you really can’t help but feel a swarm of it surround you when the track tumbles into an early Spring tumult, a quick illustration (and convincer) of what this three-piece from Taipei is capable of.

“Uproar From Riverside Buildings� follows suit, honing in on the rock part of instrumental rock, with quick, quirky builds that somersault along with upbeat, jovial harmonies. Again, the length of the song does not distract from its content, as every second seems to sway and pulse with a distinct energy. “Southern Butterfly Patch� suits its name, as guitars and flute melt into another sunlit melody, with hushed percussion giving the tune a bit of a boost from the backside. As the song builds, the percussion transforms into a subtle marching rhythm, pulling itself to the forefront, and guides the listener between instrumental choruses. It’s not so much the quiet/loud/quiet pattern we’re accustomed to, as the song maintains a balanced, sanguine intensity throughout its length, until the final two minutes where things start to crash, clang, and unfold into a mess of brilliant controlled chaos.

Things change up a bit with “Graverobber’s Abyss,� the second to last track. The song stays true to form with a 13-minute length, but avoids any other semblance to the prior tracks, discarding coherent melody and instead exploring intricate, layered guitar work. This is a prime example where the technical abilities of SPF become wonderfully obvious; bold, varied passages clash and clatter with each other on the surface, while the light, delicate guitar lines take a back seat, but still provide direction for the song. It’s a track that resonates with completeness-- mechanically strong, emotionally fulfilling. The disc ends with it’s longest piece: a 20 minute finale that encapsulates parts and pieces from the earlier songs and melds them into one, winding, epic piece that ends with vocal melodies that parallel the tranquility present in the enlivened, warm instrumental refrains throughout. The diversity of the track lends to a loss of fluidity, but the overwhelming amount of patterns present here makes the entire experience simply enjoyable.

The best way to imagine SPF is as a collective of architects basking in the sun on some lazy afternoon, furiously drawing up extensive blueprints for each composition. Once the outline, the basics of construction, are complete the band becomes residents of their own design, injecting and designing each room (read song) with unique personality and character. Instead of simply churning out songs and records, you have a group that has taken the time to live in their own design, refine it, understand it, and present it to us as a piece of themselves, not just a chunk of sound that follows flimsy genre rules and happens to sound pretty.

-Jonathan Brooks - http://thesilentballet.com/


Discography

Album:
Island On The Ocean Of The Mind (2010)
Thanks for Reminding Me (2007)
Lack of Something (2001)

EP:
10th anniversary tour single (2008)
Message Vol.1 (2009)
SPF Rooftop Festival Limited Edition EP (2010)

Compilation Albums:
Red Sound Rock 2 (1998)
Red Sound Rock 3 (1999)
Good to be a Band (1999)
Happy Play Band 3 (2000)
Wrap a Bandage on the Wound 2 (2001)
Red Sound Rock 5 (2002)
Candy Rain Movie Soundtrack (2008)

Soundtrack:
Spider Lilies Movie Soundtrack (2007)

Photos

Bio

Our story begins in 1997, when singer-turned-producer Chang Yu-Sheng was still alive-and-kicking and Taipei-based Ladybug hadn't yet broken loose from the Riot Grrrl genre, and four college students formed their own band with a fumbling start. However, it was not until the frontman, hailing from NTU, missed a rehearsal session that the rest of the outfit discovered their own sound and started to chart their own way towards what would become the anchor of the alternative/post-rock scene in Taiwan.

Several months after this accidental epiphany, guitarist Xiao-Bai (aka Insecteens), bassist Leaf Lee, and drummer Yoz came up with the name Sugar Plum Ferry while shooting the shoot at a Burger King. With virtually no college radio to speak of, they had to rely upon word-of-mouth about their live performances to gain an audience. After playing warm-up act for Groupie and co-headlining with 1976 in numerous gigs and music festivals around Taipei, they gained definitive recognition as the local opening act for Seam and Macha during their 1999 world tour.

Not everything was always so smooth, however. On the eve of their album debut, major frustration hit the band. Bundy K. Brown (of Tortoise/HiM fame), who had expressed mutual appreciation after listening to SPF's earlier compositions on various compilation albums, was unavailable to produce the band, forcing them unexpectedly to look for a new recording engineer. (Fortunately, the fellow with whom they hooker up was an acolyte of Butch Vig!). Misfortune turned into another new start, and in spite of Yoz's departure on a solo career the following year, Missing Something was successfully launched in 2001, leading to critical acclaim.

For the remaining pair of Xiao-Bai and Leaf Lee, the notoriously prolonged search for a capable substitute to replace Yoz reached an unlikely conclusion before their 2003 Shanghai debut featuring the drummer/founding member of Triple Six. This lurching step forward was followed by another 20-month hiatus during Xiao-Bai's mandatory military service. Xiao-Bai's absence made it difficult for his side project (Tin Pan Alley, a math rock sensation led by local legend Huang Wan-Ting, formerly of Ladybug) to promote its first album with sufficient show counts, but fortunately didn't put an end to SPF 's existence.

With drumming coach John Wu and his flutist ex joining the roster, SPF launched a series of comeback concerts in 2005. When Icelandic collective Mum came in need of a Taiwanese band good enough to share the stage, to whom else would they turn but SPF?

Thank you for reminding me (White Wabbit Records), the highly anticipated second album by Sugar Plum Ferry, was recorded right after Xiao-Bai and his fellow musicians finished the original soundtrack for Spider Lilies, directed by Zero Chou. This album captured SPF 's creative dynamics with unprecedented accuracy. Its success confirmed SPF's position as the foremost post-rock act in Taiwan, and has created great anticipation around the band's upcoming musical efforts. Then SPF teamed up with Nike Japan to film a music video of their 4 asia cities music project. In 2008 they held their 10th anniversary concert with 1000 fans participated.

In 2009, SPF added a new member, Guitarist and Synth Player Su and they start the year with a full house show at The WALL Taipei. In this year they also cooperate with world famous graffiti artist Reach in his project with SPORT b. to have an EP - Message Vol.1. After producing and recording their latest Album, in October, SPF participated in the CMJ Music Marathon & Film Festival. In November, tour with MONO to China.

In 2010, SPF released their eagerly anticipated 3rd Alum - Island On The Ocean Of The Mind. With good reviews from all over the island and China, they had a Taiwan and China tour and receiving about 5000 audiences for that tour, and achieved remarkable success. In September, they participated in the Eslite Rooftop Festival as the headliner of the third day and had a great time with over 1000 audiences enjoy their music.

Festival Invited:

Spring Scream Festival (Taiwan, Kenting)
Formoz Festival (Taiwan, Taipei)
Megaport Festival (Taiwan, Kaohsiung)
Eslite Rooftop Festival (Taiwan, Taipei)
Music Terminal Festival (Taiwan, Taoyuan)
Taipei Summer Rock Festival 2008 (Taiwan, Taipei)
Taiwan Band Festival (Taiwan, Taipei)
Autumn Tiger Festival (Taiwan, Taipei)
CMJ Music Marathon & Film Festival 2009 (NY)
Amnesty International Small Places Tour 2008 (Taiwan, Taipei)
2010 South East Asia Tour (Taiwan, China, Hong Kong)