Release Date: Feb 2, 2010
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Indie, Electronic, Alternative
You can't do it all yourself. It's a true hallmark of personal growth and knowledge that Jimmy LaValle, a.k.a. the Album Leaf, seems to have taken to heart since 2006's Into the Blue Again. In his personal life, LaValle tied the knot in 2008 and married his high school sweetheart (which one can only guess the sweet and restrained “Tied Knots,” on his fifth release, A Chorus of Storytellers, nods to).
There’s something sad and distant about A Chorus of Storytellers. It’s a relic of another time, a beautiful bit of otherworldly majesty that belongs in a time when albums were entities of only themselves, when we were more likely to pick it off a rack than click a button to buy it. It’s a piece of work that deserves to be heard front to back, and not found on someone’s list of “the first 15 songs my iPod randomly picked”.
Jimmy LaValle's career as the Album Leaf took off when he started opening for Sigur Rós (Jonsi produced prior albums), and since then, he's been offering a lower-stakes, more intimate take on what they've sort of perfected: a twinkling poptronica that could be arguably cast aside as new age if it weren't cut with just enough post-rock and IDM textures. It's a nice niche, but one where the floor and the ceiling can be a little too close for comfort: Over the span of four albums, collaborations, and EPs, you've come in knowing what to expect and then got just that. It's not a sound that takes a lot of risks, and thus, trying to figure out what constitutes great Album Leaf and merely more Album Leaf is splitting some incredibly thin hairs.
As the founder member and key orchestrator of The Album Leaf, Jimmy LaValle is arguably one of post-rock's focal figures, even as the genre goes through something of a restrained phase. Not only a keen multi-instrumentalist, LaValle is also the brains behind the mixing desk, having produced, having engineered and assisted Sigur Rós associate Birgir Birgisson with the mixing of A Chorus Of Storytellers in equal measures. Indeed the process used by LaValle and co.
It must be tricky for Jimmy LaValle to know where to go as he sits down to write. After the critical and commercial success of In a Safe Place defined his position in the hearts and minds of many, and more importantly helped make the group synonymous with their gentle sound, it is a noticeable disappointment that each new record he produces becomes merely a sequel to its most famous predecessor. The lolloping, mid-tempo drums, the twinkling stripped down melodies, the simple orchestrations and Jimmy's precious, faltering vocals are all present and correct.
This is the fifth full-length for San Diego ambient post-rockers the Album Leaf, and the first time leader Jimmy LeValle has allowed his live band to help him record. Unfortunately, it doesn't go as well as his studio collaborations with Sigur Rós (see 2004's In A Safe Place). [rssbreak] Admirable attempts are made to emulate tourmates Lymbyc Systym on Blank Pages, but they fall short of that band's visceral energy and edge.
Although it’s far from being a memorable record, there’s a moment on The Album Leaf’s debut — 1999’s An Orchestrated Rise to Fall — that haunts me as I type these words. No matter how many lead paragraphs I try to write, my mind keeps drifting back to “An Interview,” an unassuming little tune that begins with a hissy conversation between a man and a young girl. The tape’s hard to make out as it is — just some snippet of blasé dialogue or another — but moments later, a worn-out acoustic guitar appears and warps my sense of perception entirely.
In its serene, melancholic sweep, there’s a sense of a long journey undertaken. David Stubbs 2010 Since founding the group in 1998 in San Diego California, Jimmy LaValle has travelled some way, from lo-fi, improvised, home-recorded beginnings to the sleekly crafted orchestration of A Chorus of Storytellers. There is, in its overall serene, melancholic sweep, a sense of a long journey undertaken, whose good outcome is assured and yet which is tinged throughout with the vague sadness that accompanies any such odyssey – the loss of that which is left behind, as well as the knowledge that arrival will bring the process of travelling to an end.