In the first few moments of listening to Sugarplum Fairies’ Chinese Leftovers, the influences of Mazzy Star, Belle and Sebastian and Cowboy Junkies are unmistakable. Though the vocals of Silvia Ryder aren’t exactly sultry, they have a steady depth. Nonetheless, they don’t offer any surprises. Several tracks present droning harmonies comparable to those of Belle & Sebastian, which may or may not be coincidental seeing that the album was mixed by Belle & Sebastian’s mixer, Todd Burke.
By the third track, “Head Or Tail,” I braced myself for a heroin-chic album that would provide minimal originality, but tons of ’90s nostalgia. I mean, it was all there: Mazzy’s tambourine, Belle and Sebastian’s xylophonic sounds and vocal harmonies, and Cowboy Junkies’ vocals. Yet, instead of sticking exclusively to the sounds of bands on the Lilith Fair’s invite list, the album branches out musically as the it progresses. By the midpoint, it’s safe to call it pleasant and enjoyable. Chinese Leftovers begins throwing all kinds of Americana music at you; from New Orleans brass and accordion sounds to traditional American slide guitars and Southern twang, the musicianship is layered and bold in its stylistic adaptability. There might even be some Tex-Mex brass in there somewhere.
But where the instrumentation is broad and even commendable, don’t count on complex lyrics or vocals. For instance, “I Hate Saturdays” is exactly what it sounds like: a repetitive song repeating that line over and over. Oh and again, like Belle & Sebastian, you get really used to one vocalist, and then halfway through the album, someone else takes over the lead vocals. Ryder should probably stick to lead vocals on any following albums; in her defense, her passive vocals lend a hand to highlighting the multitude of musical instruments played throughout.
With the combination of solid musicianship and comfortably familiar sounds of the aforementioned bands, Chinese Leftovers may be exactly what certain listeners are looking for. It’s mellow, dreamy, and a little catchy. Though the vocals get dull at moments, and the lyrics repetitive and lacking in originality, this mellow album is musically chock full of talent. If you are into Belle and Sebastian, moody ’90s girl bands, or even just country simplicity, you might like the Sugarplum Fairies’ Chinese Leftovers. It’s an easy album to listen to and the music will give you an opportunity to feel kind of introspective while you clean the house or… watch Grey’s Anatomy, seeing that one of their songs is on the show.