Friday, May 28, 2004

THE WIRE magazine had a cover story last year entitled The New Weird America, which attempted to document all the great happenings in the US underground related - through some stretch of the imagination - to some mythical American cultural trail influenced by free improvisation, Appalachian hillbilly music and Robbie Basho. Or something like that. In other words, there's another generation of post-collegiate ex-punks going through the wringer and living the life of the itinerant boho until Real Life knocks on the door in 5 years and it's time to settle down and get a real job. I hope that's not the case. Read the story if you want to get the lowdown. I have no great beef concerning the article: David Keenan is a fine writer and essentially it's just another all-too-typical case of a limey music publication inflating some non-existent scene beyond its worth and dumping it two minutes later. Some of the music I like a lot - Cul de Sac, Six Organs of Admittance - and some of it is the most worthless, over-rated hippie swill imaginable: Sunburned Hand of the Man, No Neck Blues Band - but that's OK. So, what is my beef?

No beef here, just a recommendation on a couple of CDs by an artist who should have been mentioned in the article: Donovan Quinn, aka VERDURE and one half of the duo, THE SKYGREEN LEOPARDS. It's a bit hard for me to pen this rave without the cloud of self-indulgence hanging over me (I released a Verdure CD last year), though since I'm not talking about that release in particular, I figure it gets me off the hook.

VERDURE have a new CD out on the fine Camera Obscura label: The Telescope Dream Patterns. It's one of the finest CDs I've heard in recent months. Donovan, who's loosely connected to the Jewelled Antler collective on the West Coast (which is sort of a community of musicians and artists dealing in folk/improv/noise related pursuits; best go to the site as I fear pigeon-holing their efforts), is an amazing talent, and anyone who's gone ga-ga over pretty-boy folkie heart-throb Devendra Banhart (who's admittedly very good) needs to jump on this guy's bandwagon. His latest is a stunning blend of rattled, Skip Spence-style fragility, animated Bolan-esque fairy-psych, wigged tape loops and sound FX and the kind of shattered persona I usually only associate with the likes of Jandek. Beneath all that are some incredible songs. Too many of these "New Weird America" putzes are pure schtick and little else, like the right cover/flyer graphics and incessant hipster name-dropping will give them some kind of critical kudos (and hey, it seems to've worked!), though to my ears Verdure is about brilliant songwriting and little else, and that's good enough for me.

SKYGREEN LEOPARDS is his duo with Glenn Donaldson, and their new CD, One Thousand Bird Ceremony, on the Soft Abuse label is something I'm near unable to tear away from the stereo. With a massive assortment of exotic instruments at their disposal - 5-string banjo, bouzouki, jew's harp, Orpheum XII, mandolin, dulcimer, etc. - they've created a seamless blend of psychedelic dementia and pop harmonies I find irresistible. Imagine, if you will, a concoction of Notorious...-era Byrds jumbled in with the acoustic ballads on Big Star's debut and mash it up with the sounds of a few of the early Shimmy Disc artists (Dogbowl, pre-useless King Missile) and the Skygreen Leopards are hovering somewhere in that stratosphere. One of the year's best, no doubt.

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