The Skygreen Leopards Family Crimes

[Woodsist; 2014]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: 1960s lite psych-pop, jangle pop, short songs, folk
Others: recent Pure X, early Yo La Tengo, Sweetheart-era Byrds, Lemonheads, Skip Spence, Vetiver

“There are absurd situations that are also heartfelt.”

So said Skygreen Leopard Donovan Quinn (regarding his lyrics) back in 2009. It’s not a particularly profound observation, but it resonates well with what is tiresome about all this “new sincerity” business. Life is full of chaos, but it’s not necessarily music’s job to organize that confusion for us. Often, what makes 1960s-indebted folk rock endearing is its cozily-bent, temperate sensibilities — not speaking-to-you specificity. Heart is where it finds you, however clear or muddied. What’s more irksomely absurd is writing reviews about harmless, beautiful confections like this, Skygreen Leopard’s eighth record in over a decade of existence. Their sound has become so in-born that I feel like I’m walking through their living room and critiquing the furniture. It’s absurd to do anything but bask in spaces so lovely and unassuming.

But I jumped at the chance to write about the first new Skygreen album in five years, so I won’t waste your time or mine bleating about how critics suck. I will tell you that Family Crimes, despite the provocative title, is more of the same West Coast sundrop bliss we’ve idylled with all through the first decade of our new century. It’s got that musty vibe that most traditional psych things do nowadays, but that old growth is nicely undermined by a tried-and-true vocal approach that faintly borders on Ian Svenonius-style sneering. Moreover, there’s a hearty helping of iron clad hooks, the very thing that helps keep the whole 60s psych-pop/-rock/-folk thing from being completely abandoned by further removed generations of listeners. If it weren’t for the infectiousness of these hooks, this album could have easily wound up being written off as little more than a contextually moot, retromaniacal snooze.

But there’s a might to these 14 wispy lopers, one likely borne of many years doggedly working and communing within the margins of popular culture. Glenn Donaldson and Quinn sound like fighters, harnessing imperfections as essential clasps on their dangerously quaint, stressed peacoat template. The fine balance they’ve achieved comes across most impressively on album highlight “Josephine,” which subtly one-ups the spareness of its surrounding tracks for what could pass (perhaps slowed down a touch) for a great lost Neil track. It’s that perfect kind of simple number that gently enfolds the listener and departs before one can start to take it for granted. The “Hazy Shade of Winter”-esque “Reno Wedding” is another one that jumps out. It may not be as catchy as its neighbors, but it’s got a slight sourness and tentative quality that proves a perfect mid-album palate cleanser.

The tracks as a whole may come off a bit uniform, containing little in the way of surprise, but Family Crimes is nonetheless a sweet reward for those of us who’ve spent years following Jeweled Antler and everything after. It doesn’t need to be ranked in terms of what Quinn and Donaldson have done together or in other projects. It’s not a revelation, just a smattering of concise, snapshot ditties that stride confidently out of the shadows — of the ever-fading 60s, of fickle modern trends and likely just life happening — to bring us a little light. Thanks to this and Quinn’s recent Ben Chasny-collab as New Bums, the summer of 2014 is a more absurdly heartening place to be.

Links: The Skygreen Leopards - Woodsist

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