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The Skygreen Leopards: Gorgeous Johnny (Jagjaguwar) 

The Skygreen Leopards leave the impression that their songs started out informally, with two guys strumming guitars in a park, sitting cross-legged on the grass.

Gorgeous Johnny is the sort of midtempo, laid-back, jangly folk-rock that is purely California, with pre-formed images of the perfect summer afternoon, and sunlight streaming through palm trees at the edge of the ocean.

One by one, the songs can sound loose and ramshackle, but there are only minor variations on the theme: The quirks and eccentricities are all lyrical. Songwriters Glenn Donaldson and Donovan Quinn take pleasure in setting a cast of somewhat preposterous characters free to roam about their songs.

As a song cycle, Gorgeous Johnny is loosely based on the story of a hanger-on and onetime band member, someone the band says is "described by most as a phony and a self-confessed dandy."

"You were the king, but you should've been the queen. Oh Johnny, why can't you say what you mean?" the band sings on the title track.

Elsewhere is "Margery," stuck at some laugh-less dead end; in "Goodnight Anna," an ex-girlfriend is now "living with a shadow." Throughout are people creating complications for each other. While not exactly a revelation about human nature, the album is a fresh look at the challenges of friendship and love.

Still, it takes a good bit of attention to try to follow the characters, because the songs float by, too similar from one to the next to give the album much of a sonic kick.

More by Eric Swedlund

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