Sugarplum Fairies – Country International Records

Sugarplum Fairies
Country International Records

Seven years after releasing their debut album, Flake, Sugarplum Fairies offer their third long-player of melancholic introspective indie pop, Country International Records. Between these two recordings came 2004’s Introspective Raincoat Student Music, which first turned me on to the emotionally penetrating, hazy weekend odes in which Silvia Ryder and Ben Bohm specialize. Country International Records warmly blends Sugarplum Fairies’ quiet, reflective tendencies with tastefully tweaked light rockers.

Opening their new album with countrified guitars and perfectly placed chimes in “Villain of the Day,” Sugarplum Fairies pick up where they left off with Introspective Raincoat Student Music. Ryder’s vocal delivery is mesmerizing. “Velcro Girl” and “You’re Such a Weird Girl” depart from the band’s usually delicate style. Both feature guitar effects, and the volume and pace of “Velcro Girl” give the song a mid-90s grunge feel. “You’re Such a Weird Girl” is a terrific example of Sugarplum Fairies’ looser, louder new sound, marrying Ryder’s personal lyrics of universal appeal with Bohm’s pop-rock melodic skills and stunning guitar work; he brings to mind Phil Manzanera, Mark Knopfler, and Mike Campbell, Tom Petty’s lead guitarist in The Heartbreakers.

The country-western elements that were subtly noticeable on Introspective Raincoat Student Music figure more prominently on Sugarplum Fairies’ new album. Whether it’s the beautiful swirling strings on “First Love Last Rites,” the text of dependable infidelity in “I’m Just Fine,” or the accordion and different perspective on relationships and cheating that make “When You’re Mean” so special, the right amount of rural sensitivity and motifs raises Country International Records above even the band’s great second album. The successful experimentation with “When You’re Mean” is not limited to country and folk, as Ryder and Bohm elegantly bring Ben Strano’s jazzy horns into the mix.

While “I’m Just Fine” repeats the lines, “If you leave / Maybe I’ll follow / If you cheat / I won’t be bothered,” the song that immediately follows it on the album, “When You’re Mean,” finds Ryder expressing a starkly contrasting response: “When you’re mean / I smile / When you cheat / I die.” As assertive as she sounds in “I’m Just Fine,” Ryder compellingly projects the hurt and frustration of being a betrayed lover in “When You’re Mean.” That honesty is one of Sugarplum Fairies’ greatest positives. The duo wears its collective heart on its sleeve and fearlessly invites listeners to share its sentiments and moods.

To be clear, those moods are not always on the mellow side of the emotional spectrum. Though certainly not ideal for shaking bodies at your next apartment party, Sugarplum Fairies have their happier moments. On Country International Records, no track better represents the band’s joy than “Summerland.” Flowing with vivid imagery, sensual sighs, and female background vocals of “Ooh ooh,” the song has easily earned its place along established classics for inclusion in the next volume of The Best Summer…Ever!

The most surprising track on Country International Records is its closer, a cover of U2’s “All I Want is You.” With a more minimalist approach than the Irish quartet’s original version, Sugarplum Fairies have chosen to rework a classic song that seems to reflect Bohm’s love of rock from the British Isles and neighboring territories and Ryder’s preference for gloomy music. The duo’s version of “All I Want is You” is interesting, a unique gift to listeners, and as a U2 fan, I’m glad to have such a quality interpretation of this powerful song.

The 10 songs that make up Country International Records tell individual stories that are new, yet distinctively familiar. Bohm’s melodic structures and Ryder’s poignant words give a voice to many moods and plots working their way through the minds of men and women. On their third album, these two Austrian natives have opened their musical windows to welcome a little more light and refreshing breeze in a manner mirroring the daily human experience. Organic, honest, empathetic, and immediately engaging, Country International Records is Sugarplum Fairies’ best record yet.