California-based singer-songwriter Donovan Quinn gained notoriety as a member of the critically admired psych-rock outfit Skygreen Leopards, but he has come into his own as a solo artist, most appreciably with last year’s “Honky Tonk Medusa.” The album is a gorgeous, gauzy confection recalling the offhand ease and casually degenerate quality of the great, underrated Lou Reed solo album “Coney Island Baby.” Quinn possesses a natural knack for melody combined with a dark sensibility that occasionally verges on the frighteningly noir-ish.
“Honky Tonk Medusa” is rife with highlights, including the lovely, slow-burning “Laughing City,” which spins a druggy narrative of urban life examined through the smallest details: “Every tail light is a memory / that holds a little candle for me.” And “My Wife” has the audacity to adopt both the title of a famous Who song and also quote liberally from the legendary “Twin Peaks” theme, while still emerging as a uniquely tense stream-of-consciousness confession all its own.
Another high-water mark is “We Called Her Slow Snow,” an acoustic lament that spans a tightrope between earnest heartbreak and slightly ironic remove, without ever tipping its hand in either direction.
Quinn’s music is challenging but not aggressively confrontational. With introspective bands such as the Shins and Bon Iver achieving mainstream popularity, it is not impossible to imagine the fine craft of Donovan Quinn reaching such vaulting heights. Whether this is something the artist desires is a separate question. In the meantime, let’s enjoy “Honky Tonk Medusa,” a mysterious treasure happily existing outside the realm of common expectation.
“Laughing City,” “My Wife,” “The States”