It's 1968. No really, it is. Let's get out our bouzoukis and head down to that war protest at Golden Gate Park. Bring the minidisc player and we'll make an album. What's a minidisc player? Oh yeah, 1968. Shit. Well anyway, you get the idea. After one run through "One Thousand Bird Ceremony," it will be no surprise that The Skygreen Leopards hail from the Bay Area. I would never refer to them as hippies, but this music is straight from the '60s. Lead Antler Glenn Donaldson and Verdure head Donovan Quinn make up this duo, and their styles compliment each other perfectly. Equal parts structure and improvisation, this is the best record I've heard so far this year.
Jewelled Antler and its many concoctions (Thuja, The Blithe Sons, Hala Strana, and so on) have produced music that is so intrinsically interesting, it's often overwhelming. They push the boundaries of so many styles of music that the listener starts into it expecting one thing and comes out knowing about something entirely different. The Skygreen Leopards are the most structured of the Jewelled Antler-related projects, and perhaps my favorite. As soon as you hear birds chirping to open the album on "Summer Alchemy," there is a sense of familiarity. Field recordings are a Donaldson trademark. Then, to throw a wrench into things, bright and cheery guitars come in. These are the tones that are the trademark of this album.
Through the entire album, I feel like I'm outdoors. I feel like lush landscapes surround me; colors are more vibrant than I've ever seen. Rich greens, blues, yellows, and oranges dot the horizon in a brilliant mix. "Walk With the Golden Crosses," my favorite track, starts with the lyric "Lost in the springtime," and those four words perfectly summarize this album. The image of golden crosses towering over me runs throughout the song. While the guitars are jangle-y and warm, the simple drumbeat gives it a backbone. It's almost like a song you'd hear at a cemetery; there's this sense that it pays tribute to some untold hero. It's a brilliant and beautiful song.
The Jew?s harp of "Let Me Grow in Your Meadow" takes you on a lazy raft-ride down the calmer parts of the Mississippi. Tom Sawyer never sounded so good. As the song bounces along, Quinn's vocals become another instrument. You can feel the hot, Southern sun beating down on your exposed skin, while the almost tepid freshwater smell of the river tickles your nose. The entire album is a play on the senses. Besides the obvious aural stimulation, it's also very visual, and many of the images it suggests have strong smells associated with them. These ancillary elements are why this album is so wonderful. Hearing music is one thing, but seeing it and smelling it is another entirely. This has long been why I hold Donaldson in such high regard; he is able to take the true aura of a landscape and translate it into music.
Two vocal tracks are interwoven on the chorus of "Morning of Gulls (A Dream of Waters, Part 1)" to great effect. This track reminds me of some of the more psychedelic work done by The Beatles. It may sound like a crazy comparison, but it?s undeniable. "Tambourine, Play it Slow" has a folksy-country feel to it with its well-placed banjo plucks. And how can you not love the image of "A dead man neck deep in black sand?" On "All Our Plagues Were Rainbows," the duo sings a hopeful song of a destroyed planet. Falsetto-vocals are the perfect complement to the lonely, acoustic guitar. With the added cymbal swells and crashes, this song is laden with texture.
This is my favorite Jewelled Antler-related release to date, and that's saying a lot. Glenn Donaldson may be the most talented musician that most people don't know about, and his chemistry with Donovan Quinn is remarkable. There is no musician I can think of with the ability of Donaldson to incorporate the sound of a space into songs like he does. As I listen to "One Thousand Bird Ceremony" over and over again, I feel like I'm there. I feel like I'm sitting around the fire listening to these two troubadours play their songs. They play them like they are a gift to the world, like they have to release them into the earth. It makes sense, though. Most things should be returned to where they came from. 9/10 -- Brad Rose (25 May, 2005)