Family Crimes is Skygreen Leopards’ first release since 2009, and the San Francisco outfit’s eighth album overall. Glenn Donaldson’s long-running project emerged in the early 2000s as the figurehead act of the Jewelled Antler Collective, an assortment of artists commingling in various mediums and releasing the results on homemade CDs. It was the so-called “freak-folk” era, though the material resembled indie pop more than anything. The city’s lauded, self-made garage rock milieu — which revolved around Castle Face Records and artists like Kelley Stoltz — came a little later, making the Jewelled Antler’s homespun operation look prophetic in hindsight. Still, it didn’t propel Skygreen Leopards toward mainstream success, though the group leapt to the reputable Jagjaguwar imprint for a consistent run of four albums. Since 2009’s Gorgeous Johnny, Donaldson’s output hasn’t slackened — it’s diversified. As FWY!, he creates minimal electronic music, while Reds, Pinks, & Purples is a noisier outgrowth of his Skygreen Leopards compositions. On Family Crimes, Skygreen Leopards’ first album for the Woodsist label, Donaldson and bandmate Donovan Quinn set their breathy coos to sparse folk-pop instrumentation for a breezy return to form.
The drums could be played with one hand, and they’re just enough. The effect validates the lore about Jonathan Richman’s excitement when his drummer broke an arm. An acoustic guitar strums lazily along and twinkling electric chords softly accent the changes. The restraint forces listeners to focus on the vocals, which deal out buoyant melodies through sighs and whispers. “Is It Love?” asks one song title. “It’s Not Love,” comes the response two tracks later. The lyrics elaborate: It’s just blood. Family Crimes is an album of saccharine romantic tropes tempered by severe images. Like earlier releases, it can sound redundant, but the group’s longevity and focus displays a refreshing singularity of purpose. (Woodsist)