Published Aug 24, 2016Over 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.
The Album Leaf's sixth, Between Waves, is different without being unrecognizable. It's as groovy as it is ambient, and many of these songs venture into IDM territory. (It's also worth noting that the project now functions as a band, not a solo endeavour.) "Back to the Start" most resembles the Album Leaf's mid-aughts era, while "Wandering Still" melds new and old auras, layering airy piano and spacey synths over an ominous, industrial-esque rolling beat before shifting to a bright, uplifting tone with gorgeous instrumentation.
"Lost in the Fog" strikes a chord thanks to its beautifully and complexly interlayered reverb swells, enrapturing brass sections, echoing piano and crisp electric guitar lines, all backed by a melding of acoustic drums and blippy electronics. Notably prominent is the non-accessory role of percussion in many of these tracks; the layered drum patterns really anchor tracks like "Glimmering Lights" and "New Soul."
For a primarily instrumental project, Lavalle's use of vocals has long been sparse yet meaningful. The essence of the Album Leaf is demonstrated best on the title track, with its gusty, profoundly sad atmosphere and engulfing lyrical refrain: "Between waves, I take my breaths." The song is simple and dramatically vivid, painting a picture while leaving room for one's imagination to fill in the details and flourishes. One of the best things about the Album Leaf is the mental imagery that comes naturally with the music, and Between Waves provides a fresh canvas. (Relapse)