Sugarplum Fairies – Introspective Raincoat Student Music

Sugarplum Fairies
Introspective Raincoat Student Music

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’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.