BY JENNIFER KELLY
Back again after five years of other projects, the Skygreen Leopards bring the laid back, jangly, ever-so-slightly electrified folk rock in Family Crimes, expanding the whispery tuneful-ness of their basic formula with drums (Jasmyn Wong), bass (Nick Marcantonio) and a variety of keyboards (producer Jason Quever of the similarly temperate Paper Cuts). Donovan Quinn has been off making drunken folk tunes with Ben Chasny in the interim. Donaldson, for his part, made an excellent C86-ish album as the Art Museums during the hiatus. But here, together again, they pick up more or less where they left off, slipping subdued hooks into strummy reveries and spiking easy breezy tunes with jarring, occasional violent lyrics.
Consider, for instance, “Leave the Family” with its scratchy drums and home-made, unassumingly tuneful vibe. The vocals barely rise above a murmur as they describe a sort of mayhem, “You say I’m sorry and you set the house on fire, you leave the family, hear them scream and cry.” Er,yeah, tra la la, tra la la.
Donaldson and Quinn take sly pleasure in upending boy-girl clichés and sunny musical forms, carving out a pleasant, unhurried space and then waiting to see if you notice as it fills up with gore. “Is It Love, Love Love,” they ask in a jangle of euphoria, mid-way through the album, only to answer, a couple of songs later, “It’s Not Love,” and in fact, there’s too much blood on the sheets for it to be much of anything good.
Most of the songs proceed in a lulling haze, but “Reno Wedding” drives a little harder, with its slashing, surf-style guitar licks and its bumping bass figures. But it, too, turns a bit surreal if you listen closely, as the narrator dreams of cut-rate nuptial fixings like waterbeds and smoke ring halos, when the relationships has already, evidently, gone south.
Honestly, you could listen to this album without paying attention to the lyrics, and it would slide by in a mid-1960s fog of Byrdsian good feeling. And that, judging by the reviews, is how most people are hearing it. But there’s a shadow in these sunny songs, a chill in their warm, hand-crafted corners. It’s not love, love, love, all the time, even if it seems like it ought to be, and the darkness makes it interesting.
DOWNLOAD: “Reno Wedding” “Leave the Family”