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The Skygreen Leopards - Disciples of California

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Artist: The Skygreen Leopards

Album: Disciples of California

Label: Jagjaguwar

Review date: Dec. 3, 2006

I was working in a record store in 2003 when we got our first shipment of Jewelled Antler discs. At that point the San Francisco collective’s prolific output had been lauded again and again in the weekly Aquarius Records new arrivals list, but I’d never actually heard any of their myriad CD-R releases or seen them for sale in New York shops. We sold through that first huge box of discs in the blink of any eye, and I still regret that I didn’t seize the opportunity to get any of them for myself. We must’ve had a few copies of the first Skygreen Leopards album, but I don’t remember hearing it.

The following year, Soft Abuse released One Thousand Bird Ceremony, the second Skygreen Leopards album. Like the other Jewelled Antler stuff I’d heard, it was acoustic and recorded outdoors, with wind and birds audible in the background. But it didn’t drone and meander in the way that I’d expected. It sure didn’t sound anything like Thuja. This album was full of real pop songs, with verse-chorus-verse structures and humable melodies. Even more amazingly, the band claimed to have come up with almost everything spontaneously. If that was true, then these guys had incredible intuition. They were born songwriters.

Two albums later the Skygreen Leopards are still doing more or less the same thing, which may or may not be good news. On Disciples Of California, they’ve abandoned their al fresco recording aesthetic and expanded from the original duo of Glenn Donaldson and Donovan Quinn into a full-time quartet. Bass player Shayde Sartan and drummer Jasmyn Wong add a nice country shuffle to many of the tracks. But the songs themselves haven’t changed much. They all seem to follow the same basic formula and, as the title of the album suggests, their obsession with religious imagery hasn’t ebbed one bit.

It’s extremely difficult to listen to music like this without considering all the other similar stuff that’s come out over the past couple of years. Disciples Of California is a pleasant album with some nice songs and some interesting sounds, especially the bowed banjo on “Egyptian Circus.” Unfortunately the combined effect of its many small pleasures is somewhat underwhelming.

By Rob Hatch-Miller

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