Boys and girls, don’t be fooled by the title of The Snow Fairies’ full-length debut. This is not a frisky affair. It’s the soundtrack that two bright-eyed lovers sing to themselves as they run through green fields filled with sunflowers and poppies, the sunshine reflecting off their smiles.
The “Up” of the title is clearly the operative word here. Just how much “up” drives the record has to be heard to be believed.
The Snow Fairies make a light, bouncy, innocent brand of bubblegum pop, crafting the types of songs where “pagoda” is rhymed with “soda” (“Summer in Japan”) and the loudest moments come during a playful romp between guitar and 70s-style synths (“Cutting a Rug with You”).
The music can be airy and dreamy, but it’s miles and miles away from the surreal REM ruminations of an act like Neutral Milk Hotel. These are dreams without nightmares, without dangerous subconscious undertones, without the threat of falling, without the strange understanding that waking up is always just around the corner.
What exactly does that sound like? Well, sort of like a well-produced outing by the near-legendary pop group Beat Happening, all sweet, swaying guitars and sugary vocals that sound like they’re plucked from a fairy tale or a nursery rhyme.
The production values on the band’s Red Square offering are pretty high – everything is well-mixed, and the occasional interjection of xylophone and organ is crisp – and the band itself seems to play as one, a warm mix of guitars, bass, drums, and, not least, voice.
In its finest moments, The Snow Fairies sound less like its native Philadelphia and more like its neighbors in the Pacific Northwest and across the Atlantic. Good example: “Mind the Gap,” which, in addition to the British-friendly title, makes use of shimmering guitars, organ, whispered vocals, and hand claps in a way that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Parisian lounge or an Olympia coffeehouse.
Other notable moments on the record come when the band seems to throw a curve at the typical light shuffle of their repertoire. “The Place Where I Like to Read” prominently features acoustic guitar and organ, but it has a driving force percolating below the surface that could almost be heard in the mutated surf-pop loops of Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet or Phono-Comb.
“Lovers in the Countryside” also offers its departures from the shuffle-shuffle of the bubblegum pop mold, with the band starting things off with finger-picked acoustic guitar and breaking down the chorus with some interesting drums.
The band may hit its most innovative, however, in the record’s closing moments. “Freeze Dried Ice Cream” – the 12th track of 13 – kicks into high gear after a strange interlude with a tape-recorded voice, and the album-closing “Almond Eyes” gets into the swing of things with an intro from xylophone.
For all the times the members of The Snow Fairies manage to get some glory from their bright and shiny pop, though, there are moments when they seem to fall down because of it. Feel You Up is a sharply recorded disc, but there are times when the songs sound so shallow, so trebly, and so light that they hardly survive the trek from your stereo speakers to your ears.
These songs aren’t light to the point of evaporating. They’re just sometimes too light to really register or be remembered after the disc stops spinning. Also, as the record progresses, one cannot help but struggle to separate one series of glowing refrains from the next.
(Telling apart the album-opening “April Showers” from “Tongue-Tied,” which falls near the end of the disc, can be a little tough, for example, which speaks to how little the disc may develop as it moves along.)
The legions of pop devotees – and a good chunk of those who call Olympia, Washington home – may send hate mail for this suggestion, but there may be such a thing as too much sunshine to swallow.
The Snow Fairies clearly disagree. In 13 tracks, the band has created a landscape of playful, innocent-sounding guitar pop, bright and glowing and wearing a sense of child-like amazement and optimism proudly on its sleeve.
Hey Calvin, you listening? – Delusions of Adequacy, Sept. 8, 2003