James LaValle must be quite the ladies’ man. It must seem odd for me to make such an assumption, I know, never having met him and knowing nothing whatsoever about his personal life. But one only has to listen to his solo project The Album Leaf for a few moments to realize just how amazing the man is at setting a mood. His compositions stretch and sprawl, forming magnificent realms of lush instrumental transcendence that have the power to invigorate, soothe and inspire all at the same time. Which is exactly why it would probably serve as excellent make-out music. His latest effort, Into The Blue Again, rides the same calming waves that guided his 2004 Sub Pop debut, In A Safe Place, only this time to more ambitious and rapturous shores.
Into The Blue Again benefits from a recording session at Bear Creek Studios, a converted barn just outside Seattle; an appropriately rural setting that seems to have rubbed off on the album’s earthier and autumnal aesthetic. From there LaValle took the tapes to Iceland, enlisting the help of engineer Brigir Jon Birgisson with the final mixing at Sigur Ros’ Sundlaugin studio. LaValle covers nearly all the instrumental duties himself. The result is a triumphant tour de force and new high mark in The Album Leaf’s ever-improving catalogue.
Although sharing more than a few sonic similarities with friends Sigur Ros, LaValle has a profoundly affecting way of melting the ice just a little differently than his Icelandic counterparts. Overflowing with echoing keyboards that hover over the horizon like an late summer sunset and translucent guitars that shimmer alongside concise drum machines, Into The Blue Again showcases a musician well on his way to achieving new artistic milestones.
Most notable this time around are LaValle’s vocal contributions on “Always For You,” “Writings On The Wall,” and “Wherever I Go,” which demonstrate a newfound confidence and lyrical prowess. “Before the temples I stood/ Before the oceans I prayed/ And I said your name” sings LaValle on “Always For You,” a bittersweet lament over layers of keyboards and programmed beats. I’m tempted to say LaValle may be migrating into “post” post-rock territory (which I guess you might just call `rock’) with this latest studio foray, or at least into a more pop-inspired direction.
Previous fans of The Album Leaf won’t be disappointed by the instrumental offerings that comprise the remainder of the 10 tracks. “Red Eye” resonates with a lonesome keyboard before the crackling beats come glistening across the tapestry, perfect for that late night drive on a country road to clear your head. The live drumming on “Shine” steers the deliberate keys far away from monotony, as violin glides in to wash over everything. LaValle’s attention to the verse-chorus-verse structure, especially on the instrumental tracks, keeps the compositions from becoming tedious.
Upon repeat listens, it becomes quickly apparent how much a great instrumental song can resonate when given the right touch. James LaValle has proved once again that he is the master of mood, and what a relaxing one he’s fond of crafting. All you indie kids out there biting hard on rejection, consider throwing Into The Blue Again on the next time you try to make your move. You might just set the perfect mood.
Sigur Ros – Takk…
Do Make Say Think – & Yet & Yet
The Appleseed Cast – Peregrine