Release Date: Aug 26, 2016
Record label: Relapse Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Dream Pop, Post-Rock, Experimental Rock
Over almost two decades, Jimmy Lavalle's long-running project the Album Leaf has been so consistent in its output of ambient, textured chill-out music as to have become almost predictable. Shaped earlier on by the glacial sounds of Iceland — chiefly Sigur Rós, as well as Amiina and Múm, all of whom Lavalle collaborated with in Mosfellsbaer to produce his breakthrough In a Safe Place — he built the Album Leaf on Rhodes piano, swelling, foggy reverb, plucky electronic beats and orchestral arrangements, all of which worked together to placate post-rock fans' hunger for peaceful, isolation-evoking instrumentals. Lavalle slowly headed in search of a more unique identity, so while 2010's A Chorus of Storytellers was mostly more of the same, there were moments that suggested a more robust and interbred sound.
Jimmy LaValle started the Album Leaf as a one-man side project in the late ‘90s, sort of a busman’s holiday from his gig as a guitarist for California post-rock band Tristeza. Eventually, a few things changed: the Album Leaf became LaValle’s full-time project, and he began incorporating more musicians, creating more of an actual “band”. In a way, the mostly instrumental, slightly melancholic feel of the music make it seem like a somewhat solitary endeavor, but the musicians that make up the Album Leaf give the proceedings a warmth and clarity that have helped craft the beauty of their latest album, Between Waves.
Between Waves is the first major release by electronic post-rock mainstays the Album Leaf in the six years since their final Sub Pop album A Chorus of Storytellers. During that time, the group recorded a soundtrack (Torey's Distraction, 2012) and an EP (Forward/Return, 2014), and leader Jimmy LaVelle collaborated with Sun Kil Moon's Mark Kozelek on 2013's Perils from the Sea. Between Waves is the group's debut for Relapse Records, which might be surprising to some fans considering that the label is mainly associated with extreme metal, but it makes a little more sense when taking into account the presence of cinematic, synth-heavy artists like Steve Moore/Zombi and S U R V I V E on the label, as well as Nothing, who have more in common with shoegaze than metal.
What makes a compelling Album Leaf record? Jimmy LaValle’s music has always been best suited to working in tandem with an outside element — say, vocals from a songwriter like Mark Kozelek or being accompanied by the visuals of a subtle horror film. Without such an X-factor, his ambient work (anything post-The Locust, really) can easily fall into a trap of being too dependable, too calm, too consistent. It’s become both a strength and a weakness.
A six-year gap between full-lengths and a move to a prominent metal label could on first glance be interpreted as signs of creative disruption, but The Album Leaf haven’t made a habit of swerving too far in any direction over their 18 years. Instead, the progression of their sound has been one of accumulation and shedding, the cells of its form regenerating in a way that keeps their music evolving, but at a pace that assures familiarity. Between Waves is the most succinct disc from The Album Leaf since their game-changing Seal Beach EP in 2003.