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The Skygreen Leopards - One Thousand Bird Ceremony

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Artist: The Skygreen Leopards

Album: One Thousand Bird Ceremony

Label: Soft Abuse

Review date: May. 3, 2004

The implied musical philosophy of the Bay Area-based Jewelled Antler collective has always been that all landscapes – from coastal coves to shady groves to rickety apartments – possess an inherent potential for music. Naturally (meant both ways), Jewelled Antler-bearers summon these songs from each respective terrain in an intuitive fashion, articulating through sparse, patient improvisations the atmosphere and energy of a given locale. The collective’s predilection for field recordings blurs the boundary between home studio and the great outdoors, as it’s often difficult to discern if, for instance, the sound of waves lapping is a prerecorded sample or real-time background ambience. In bands like Thuja, The Blithe Sons, and The Franciscan Hobbies (all of which feature Glenn Donaldson, who's also half of the Skygreen Leopards), the music usually creaks along in subtle, nebulous cycles, the mostly acoustic instruments picked at with an almost incidental air of lofty distraction and circular motion. On One Thousand Bird Ceremony, however, none of this applies.

Instead, Donaldson – along with Donavan Quinn, who records alone as Verdure – solidifies his meandering methodology into songs with overt melodies and recognizable choruses and bridges. Although the duo’s pastoral predilections are never far away, on the whole this album oozes with imagery of meadows and rainbows, cushioned in field recordings of birdcalls, crickets, and wind, and every song emotes a jangly, verdant haziness. With the exception of a few field recording-drenched instrumentals, One Thousand Bird Ceremony is essentially a Byrds ceremony, with soft, sunny folk-pop far outshining whatever shadows of droning Jewelled Antler experimentalism might linger in the reverberating dulcimers.

These exercises in structure, however, are not imposing in the least, and, on the contrary, the Skygreen Leopards’ charms are bountiful and breezy, lazily sashaying along with trebly tambourines, wispy vocals, and feathery percussion. Of course, undertones of darkness do rumble beneath some of these melodies, as in “Walk with the Golden Cross,” when the singing ascends to the foreground, more delirious than blissful, “lost in the springtime, lost…golden crosses over us.” Or on the instrumental “One Thousand Birds,” where an old organ breathes eerie low-end tones beneath a canopy of chirping birds, and the alchemy of the clashing frequencies transmutes the once-sweet trills into a cold, mechanized din. These are exceptions, however, as most of ...Ceremony hums with the busy, physical, human music of maracas, banjos, drums, and strumming, campfire guitars, uniting together in ever warmer rites of spring.

By Britt Brown

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