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The Skygreen Leopards - Love & Life in Sparrow's Meadow

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Artist: The Skygreen Leopards

Album: Love & Life in Sparrow's Meadow

Label: Jagjaguwar

Review date: Mar. 3, 2005

Under the guise of the Skygreen Leopards, Donovan Quinn and Glenn Donaldson have come to represent the most immediately accessible and user-friendly arm of the ever-expanding Jewelled Antler Collective. Much like their contemporaries within that wide ranging moniker, the Leopards rarely deviate from the overarching modus of folk strums, field recordings, and more experimental leanings. However, in this incarnation, these basic elements are reshuffled until hummable, toe-tapping pop songs emerge. Rather than exist as a group of experimental musicians with occasional pop leanings, the Skygreen Leopards emerge as a pop band capable of weaving their contemporaries' penchants for found sounds and unorthodox instrumentation into the context of their oft-ramshackle songs.

Love & Life in Sparrow's Meadow is the duo's fifth recording after a couple of CD-Rs for the Jewelled Antler imprint, an album for Soft Abuse, and a limited edition LP. Much like their other material, Quinn and Donaldson lock in on an album's worth of gorgeous psyche-folk odes tethered to pop hooks that are often absent from the rest of the Jewelled Antler stable. "Mother the Sun Makes Me Cry" begins the album with acoustic guitars, spare percussion and a buoyant mouth harp as the duo's vocals revel in sunkissed lysergic bliss. "Belle of the Woodsman's Autumn Ball" continues in this vein, adding a subtle harmonica line and some gently chiming electric guitar to the mix to match what sounds like a toy train's whistle.

The proceedings here rarely deviate from the patterns established by the opening pair of tracks. "Egyptian Rosemarie" sounds a bit more pensive, while "Clouds Through Sparrows Eyes" cascades by in a haze of shimmering, reverb drenched vocals. "Tents Along the Water" is more subdued, its casual banjo line implying a heretofore unseen country influence on top of a wheezing organ backdrop.

The album crests effortlessly with the three-part suite of "Careless Gardeners (of Eden)/Sparrows of Eden (Eden Fading)/Drunken Gardeners Dance (Paradise Lost Sweetly)." Here, the guitars of the first part form a rudimentary harmony with the field recordings of birdsong to excellent effect. A bare organ figure introduces the down tempo conclusion of the piece, leaving the vocals to sleepily muse.

With the triptych forming the obvious dividing line between the first and second halves of the record, the remainder of the disc plays out with more emphasis on brooding lyrical textures and themes. Aesthetically, the duo still mine similar sounds and patterns, but now with an increased emphasis on less effervescent imagery. "Come Down off Your Mountain, Moses" showcases some nifty interlocking acoustic patterns, while both "Minotaur (Burn a Candle for Love)" and "Labyrinth Windows" move in distinctly darker directions, both lyrically and tonally. The album closes out with "The Supplication of Fireflies" and "A Child Adrift," two more distinctly down-tempo pop nuggets, with the latter almost reprising some of the disc's earlier, more upbeat melodies.

When contrasted with the rest of the Jewelled Antler output, the Skygreen Leopards seem a somewhat odd addition to the likes of Thuja and the Blithe Sons (to name but two projects from that stable). The outright emphasis on pop songs and structures, as well as more conventional instrumentation seems to diverge considerably from Quinn and Donaldson's other projects and brethren. And yet subtle reminders consistently pop up throughout the disc that make it seem as though it could never be anything but a Jewelled Antler release - the occasional toy instrument, random patches of bird song, etc.

Unlike other releases from their contemporaries, however, the music on Love & Life in Sparrow's Garden presents itself almost immediately; absent are the various nooks and crannies of mysterious sound and instrumentation that often permeate other Jewelled Antler projects and invite the listener back again and again. In their place, though, the Skygreen Leopards leave memorable hooks and brilliant melodies. For those expecting more cracked improv and earthen experimentation, this might not suit. But for those who have often been left wondering where exactly "folk" and "psychedelia" met with the Antlered ones, this disc lays it all out.

By Michael Crumsho

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