The Skygreen Leopards

The Jingling World of the Skygreen Leopards

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When Bay Area musicians Donovan Quinn and Glenn Donaldson started the Skygreen Leopards in 2001, their sound seemed almost accidental, defined by a limitlessly curious approach to songwriting, recording, and the general boundaries of what music could be. Though they would never achieve the mainstream appeal of more accessible peers, their rough-hewn and softly damaged sound would set the scene for the freak folk movement of the mid-2000s. Nowhere is the Leopards' signature offhanded charm more apparent than on their earliest recordings, playful and semi-improvised songs originally released as CD-Rs on Donaldson's Jeweled Antler label. Archival release The Jingling World of the Skygreen Leopards collects songs from the group's first two mini-albums, 2001's I Dreamt She Rode on a Pink Gazelle & Other Dreams and 2002's The Story of the Green Lamb & the Jerusalem Priestess of Leaves, pairing the two as a document of the group's nascent output. For music so loose, it's interesting to learn that these songs were made under rigid guidelines. Compositions were "automatic," written and arranged quickly from the first wisps of inspiration and recorded at home on a primitive multi-track machine. From there, the bandmembers insisted that no song could be longer than three minutes; they couldn't go back and fix mistakes; no jamming was allowed; and once they were out of open tracks to record on, the song was done. These limitations might seem arbitrary, but along with healthy doses of acoustic 12-string guitar and trippy imagery, they go a long way to shape the sound of these early experiments. Warm and optimistic songs like "The Stars Go to Sleep" and "Mascara Priscilla (Things Get Better)" channel some of the Leopards' '60s acid folk influences, their sunny imagery, and singsong melodies reminiscent of Donovan's breezier moments. Psychedelic themes and outlandish song titles ("She Wears a Rainbow on Sunday Mornings," "Sally Orchid I Can't Help You") also push the '60s influence. The self-imposed limitations on song length and overthinking ideas draw more parallels with the early-2000s indie rock scene the Leopards spent their infancy in. Short, melodic tunes like "Your Face Is Modern Art" sound like hippie cousins to Guided by Voices' fractured pop, and the cloak of reverb employed on melancholy explorations like "Hurray for the Beast" bring to mind the sounds the Clientele were making around the same time. The "no jamming" rule significantly cuts down on filler, although several instrumental tracks feel less fleshed-out than the rest of the collection. Even those drift by before they can drag down the album's flow, highlighting how cohesive and intentional this smattering of would-be afterthoughts actually is. The Skygreen Leopards would grow in various directions from these early sessions, shifting shapes as they experimented constantly, but the spirit of their dreamily disjointed music held fast. Presenting their first two releases back to back, Jingling World captures that spirit in its rawest, purest, and oftentimes most enjoyable form.

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