Album Leaf: In A Safe Place
Jimmy LaValle (aka the Album Leaf, Tristeza) left the pleasant weather and beaches of San Diego behind and travelled to Iceland to record this album. There he worked with the folks from Sigur Ros and what has resulted is quite simply one of the most beautiful sounding albums i've heard this year!
The previous two Album Leaf releases were quite good in their own right and showed that LaValle's talent stretched beyond the hardcore sound of Tristeza. On this album, the stretch is even larger and everything comes together oh so perfectly. It's the piano playing on this album that really draws you into the songs. It reminds me of B. Fleischmann's fabulous 'Welcome Tourist' album in this way, but the electronic elements are even more subtle here. In fact, "electro-pop" doesn't even seem like the right descriptor - it's more organic sounding than that. LaValle's approach to the piano is almost deceptively simple with single notes flowing slowly along. Nothing fancy. No "piano solos". Just simply beautiful. On songs like 'Thule', 'The Outer Banks', and 'Over the Pond', the piano is joined by cello, guitar, violin, bells, and even glockenspiel. The combination of each of these instruments creates a very rich and diverse sound that is quite powerful even when the music is slow and quiet.
In addition to working with the Sigur Ros camp, Pall Jenkins of 3 Mile Pilot and Black Heart Procession fame provides vocals, guitar, and even saw (!!!) on a few songs. Anyone familiar with Jenkin's own songs will know that his voice and music have quite a unique feel (sombrer carnival freakshow?), yet it too blends perfectly with LaValle's music. 'On Your Way' could actually be my favourite song on the album and it makes me hope that Jenkins and LaValle work together again in the future. This is one of those songs that feels like floating, or riding on a fast moving train, just watching the scenery blur past you. 'Eastern Glow' is a slower and more etheral song that gradually builds itself up before fading out. It would be a good song to die to. Better to just listen to it over and over again though i suppose.
A friend of mine saw the Album Leaf perform live a few months before this album came out and he told me that the new songs were great. I tend to believe my friend, but honestly I didn't expect the songs on this album to sound as good as they do. While the supporting cast surely had some role in this, Jimmy LaValle has continued to expand and refine his talents with each album. 'In a Safe Place' is one of those albums that shows an artist who is really hitting their stride and it's a beautiful thing to see (hear). Following up this album is going to be no easy feat, yet something tells me I needn't worry about that.