The Album Leaf - A Chorus of Storytellers
Chris Tapley 29/01/2010
Over the last decade The Album Leaf have enjoyed a steady rise in popularity which peaked with 2006's Into The Blue Again, as composer and multi-instrumentalist Jimmy LaValle became synonymous with his trademark style ambient post rock steeped in electronica. He serves up more of the same here but conversely it's the moments which display the more human touches which provide the most resonance, like the raw drums at the beginning of Stand Still or any of the handful of tracks with vocals. This is the first album that LaValle has recorded with a full band rather than solo and this seems to have been a good move with a more full sound often emerging from the new dynamic. His albums always tend to include one massive sounding single anyway; the last album had Always For You and those shoes are filled nicely here by Falling From The Sun with it's rumbling bass, twinkling rhodes piano, glitchy processed beats and reverb drenched vocals. These more poppy tracks with their big choruses are arguably more suited to LaValle and he might be better tackling more of these rather than instrumental and generally more electronic numbers which, for the most part, sound frustratingly hollow.
Like their last, this album was mixed by Birgir Jon Birgisson (Sigur Rós), and as you might expect it has that spacious glacial sheen over the top of everything but rather than engineering a feeling of grandeur here it has led to lack of dynamic range. This whole album is on a level playing field; there are no real peaks and troughs to experience, there is the odd stand out moment but everything's the same shade and it gets boring very quickly. It's not that these pieces aren't enjoyable, they often are but they also lack any kind of emotional substance, it seems as though every note has been poured over and so incessantly tweaked that it has lost any initial spark of genuine inspiration or feeling. It all sounds very pre-meditated and there isn't much in the way of surprises to be found here; it's The Album Leaf by numbers.
This being said though there are still moments of beauty littered throughout, such as the gorgeous strings on Within Dreams or the evocative siren like sounds that open Summer Fog before receding in to the misty silence followed by the first note of bashed piano, which is one of the few genuine hair rousing moments of the album. Until the Last blossoms with the majesty of Sigur Rós but seems to be lacking in the nuance or atmosphere which illuminates their best work, still it's difficult not to be buoyed by the bright swells of brass, lush orchestration and all over celebratory feel to the track. Almost There manages to almost capture a feeling of creeping desperation but like most of the tracks the overly polished production manages to ruin any genuine emotion seeping through. The one track which isn't tainted by this and the best here is the naturalistic styling of closer Tied Knots which builds patiently from minimal piano strokes with bowed guitar threatening to erupt but it never does; not that it really matters because the lack of electronic elements means it's enough of a change of pace for it to stand out.
There's some lovely moments here and if you're looking for an Album Leaf record as you've previously known then A Chorus of Storytellers will definitely do the trick, but I can't help feel as though a composer as talented as LaValle should be developing something a little more unexpected after five albums. It seems as though he may still be clinging to this as a solo project a little too much and it would be nice to see the next album embrace the possibilities of The Album Leaf as a full band, because he has the potential to create something special but yet again this just isn't quite it.