The Album Leaf Into the Blue Again [Sub Pop]


Rating: 7.5

Classically trained multi-instrumentalist James LaValle, the man behind The Album Leaf, has projected his existence as a solo artist onto his most full-length Into the Blue Again. Although rife with electronic beats and lush strings, the mood of the album is overridingly one of melancholic, beautiful loneliness.

LaValle has close ties to the band Sigur Ros, having worked with its members on his 2004 release In A Safe Place and recorded in their Icelandic studio. The Album Leaf and Sigur Ros share a penchant for soaring, dreamy soundscapes, yet while Sigur Ros expresses a collaborative, communal grandeur, LaValle pares down his similar stylistic values to match the solo bent of his project. Into the Blue Again is the sonic equivalent of feeling alone in a crowd—like riding in a bus full of strangers or living in a country where you can’t understand the native language.

When LaValle conjures such moods or images with his ambient, instrumental songs, he is transcendent. Opening track “The Light” recalls a hazy sunrise with its minimal yet powerfully felt keyboard melody and ascendancy of strings. The seven-minute piece “Red-Eye” would have fit well on the Lost In Translation soundtrack, its cyclical keyboard notes and backdrop of clicks and beeps conveying a blurry, pleasant drowsiness. Even the instrumental tracks with stronger pop overtones, such as “Shine”, retain the transparency of a dream. Perhaps what’s best about such compositions is that LaValle leaves them open to interpretation: they may become as personal to us as they are to him.

The same doesn’t hold for “Always For You”, a third-rate pop song and the album’s designated single. A bland melody is highlighted by LaValle’s tuneless vocals; if LaValle has become more confident about his vocal abilities, also singing on “Wherever I Go” and “Writing On The Wall”, he shouldn’t be.

While I’m all for creative exploration, in regards to Into the Blue Again I’ll ascribe to the “stick with what you excel at” school of thought. LaValle masterfully composes winding paths of ambient sound on Into the Blue Again; he begins to falter when dabbling with more standard, indie pop song writing. Into the Blue Again, lustrous as it is, would have been improved without this extraneous material.

– Mary Mulholland

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