Album Reviews

The Album Leaf – A Chorus Of Storytellers

(Sub Pop) UK release date: 1 February 2010

The Album Leaf is Jimmy LaValle; Jimmy LaValle is The Album Leaf. A former guitarist with post-rockers Tristeza, he’s now a fully fledged law-unto-himself, producing, engineering, mixing and playing all manner of instruments on the four LPs under The Album Leaf monicker to date.

He is, however, not the self-indulgent knob-twiddling type, nor a Calvin Harris-esque chart-bothering hit machine: instead, LaValle is a long-term Sigur R�s co-conspirator and, having spent time with the Icelanders both on the road and in the studio, has been able to nurture The Album Leaf’s sound from lo-fi to epic.

Indeed, A Chorus Of Storytellers was recorded in Seattle but remixed in Iceland by Birgir J�n Birgisson, and appears to benefit accordingly: here is that elusive melancholy American dramas exploit so well – not least The OC, which has featured no less than six Album Leaf tracks over the seasons.

But is such cinematic compatibility sufficient? Has LaValle’s 12-year recording career allowed him to perfect the art of crafting unassuming, inoffensive mood music, or does Storytellers pack a punch greater than the sum of its parts?

From the outset, LaValle’s decision to take a full band into the recording studio for the first time – rather than gradually layer his own overdubs – is one that pays immediate aural dividends: each track boasts the kind of vibrancy born of collaboration, a more impulsive creativity that breathes life into restrained, slow burning mini-masterpieces.

From the glitchy-yet-serene Within Dreams to the nuanced harmonics of Almost There, Storytellers toes the line between ambient and melancholic, and while detractors may say that each track could conceivably score a Visit Scotland TV advert, that’s not necessarily a criticism: this is the kind of genre-juggling serenity that is at once utterly listenable and irresistibly appealing.

There’s also greater emphasis on vocals – Black Heart Procession‘s Pall Jenkins features – with such tracks spaced carefully throughout the largely instrumental track listing to good effect. Falling From The Sun, for example, reads like a particularly peaceful Eels cut, its delicate pop sensibilities lending greater weight to the subsequent Stand Still, a grand instrumental crescendo that ultimately serves as the album’s microcosmic pillar.

Until The Last, one of the album’s more pronounced nods to Sigur R�s, exemplifies LaValle’s simple songwriting augmented exponentially by real instruments played by real people, skilfully captured to track. Credit is due to the meticulous production of the drum tracks in particular, which enjoy an immediate, organic quality – as if the drum kit was just a few feet away – that helps steer The Album Leaf’s sound from home schooled to postgraduate.

Although Storytellers’ qualities imbue it with sufficient class to shine forth from the background (in much the same way as Air‘s Virgin Suicides score, perhaps), its gentility and decorum are so consistent that this is an LP that needs to be sought out. It is an album that requires undivided attention. As such, The Album Leaf have on their hands an album that is as rewarding as you care to make it, and that’s all one could ask for.

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More on The Album Leaf
The Album Leaf @ Bush Hall, London
The Album Leaf – A Chorus Of Storytellers
The Album Leaf – In A Safe Place