Album Review: Skygreen Leopards – Family Crimes

Shimmering, shining and alive.  Breathing, enveloping and visceral.  San Francisco’s Skygreen Leopards are back with their (more or less) eighth release, Family Crimes, conjuring mystic California dreamscapes and pastoral nature-folk vibes that would serve justice in a convertible driving along the coast with the salted sea foam air drifting through your outstretched fingertips.

The band is a duo made up of Glenn Donaldson and Donovan Quinn, who bring in a plethora of friends and acquaintances to add to the collective mystique.  Positively positive mellowness flows in and out, maintaining an attitude of friendship, family and love through all fourteen tracks, clocking in less than forty minutes in total.  Easily accessible and affable without pretension, the greater Jeweled Antler Collective of San Francisco-based artists formed over 12-string guitars, bizarrely strung acoustic instruments and the penchant for recording off-the-cuff sessions outdoors onto reel-to-reel machines…and then distributing CD-Rs of the *ahem* experience.

The fourteen tracks are rife with a droning, collective, improvisational feel.  Hushed backing and lead vocals fall in and out of brushed drums and helioscopic tambourines; happily strummed acoustic guitars and jangly 12-strings dripping with colorful reverb trails provide the unconscious soundtrack to what seems to be a regular day in the life for the Californian psychedelic folk artist, happily jaunting from pad to pad, joint to joint.

Being a new listener to the Skygreen Leopards, I hear comparisons to like-minded Californian Edward Sharpe and his equally expansive, bordering-on-cultdom “collective.”  Something’s going on with these Californians who want everyone to come over, jam a little and be happy.  My Rust Belt roots have ingrained a fight or die mentality, built upon hard work that seems to never pay off.  We continue the struggle, we are the struggle, attempting to forge a place we can stand and put our names upon.  But for these West Coasters, it may be less about the name on the wall and more about the fact that the wall is separating you from me, man.  A collective embrace, Family Crimes embodies an edgeless softness.  All fourteen tracks and their hardly discernible lyrics and similar sonic landscapes can be interchanged, and few numbers stand out from one another.  The whole thing is the thing.  The parts make up the whole, and while the whole package is nice to put on and air my stuffy apartment of its totally un-mellow vibes, I would like a few tracks to stand out for contemplation of artistic process.

In a recent interview with the LA-based music blog Aquarium Drunkard, Glenn Donaldson reveals the album (and band, more generally) is “a reflection of who we are, so it’s easy to do [keep things fresh/interesting].  I think we bring a tone that’s unique, tucked in between humor and melancholy, joy and embarrassment.  A lot of musicians out there are posing.  But we know we’re ridiculous, and we don’t care.” Maybe that’s it.  Maybe we can’t lose sight of the proverbial forest for the proverbial trees.  This is a representation of music from two guys at a point in time; insight into their collective mind, as fleeting, natural and visceral that may be.

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