It’s been four years since we last heard from Jimmy LaValle and his crew of atmospheric wunderkinds. For those unaware, The Album Leaf is LaValle’s nearly two-decades old mostly-instrumental brainchild, and Between Waves is the group’s latest offering of tunes.
Between Waves is a tight eight tracks with virtually no wasted space and absolutely no filler. The album is incredibly intentional with its approach to combining multitudes of layers of string arrangements, piano and synth leads, and both digital and acoustic drums patterns. This is a level of care that LaValle is known for throughout his years of manufacturing elaborate, yet chill and calming music.
The album starts with a lovely digital “False Dawn” provides an immediate comfort for the seasoned Album Leaf fan—as those familiar with the band are quite accustomed to the airy tones that LaValle tends to employ. Xylophones tease the listener’s ears as the song builds and builds into a multi-layered and satisfying post-rock blend of atmospheric ear candy.
Between Waves continues its build up with the energetic digital presentation, “Glimmering Lights,” which demonstrates how the group has made some upgrades in terms of its production and experimental detail. The track is complex, yet light, and upbeat, yet eccentric.
We finally hear LaValle’s gentle voice when “New Soul” lands at track three. This track was released nearly a year ago, as a teaser, and eventually as a 7″ single a few months ago.
Something so rewarding about “New Soul” and The Album Leaf is how LaValle shows much restraint from overusing his vocals. When it appears, LaValle makes sure that his voice is not distracting from the overall presentation of the few songs he lends it to on each album. Yet, his voice, the instrument, is merely an accent to already sufficient songs. When in reality, LaValle could easily release an album full of tracks with vocals and it would be instantly accessible—but that’s not his game. This is expert-level understanding of one’s craft.
For those who have never listened to The Album Leaf, selecting “Back to the Start” as a first option would be a good choice—especially when studying or trying to focus. The track hearkens back to much of the calming elements that have made them so successful. And the subtle use of muted trumpet throughout makes this such an enjoyable listen.
“Wandering Still” is a lavish throwback to the sounds of the band’s decade-old, Into the Blue Again LP. It’s a lively, groovy exploration of all things the band has experimented with throughout the years. To me, it feels the most involved and intricate track on the album—constantly reaffirming why this group has commanded such attention in the post-rock instrumental scene for years.
“Never Far” has the feel of “On Your Way,” from the 2004 LP, In A Safe Place, which is the band’s most acclaimed album. Both are incredibly accessible tunes, and “Never Far” is certainly the most accessible track on Between Waves, but doesn’t shy away from the instrumentation feeling like it comes from Radiohead’s In Rainbows era—which is incredibly rewarding to hear from the group.
The penultimate track, “Lost in the Fog,” weaves an elegant and upbeat digital tapestry reminiscent of Tycho—with a salsa rhythm that brings a danceable feel to an album that carries nothing but good vibes.
The finale/title track, “Between Waves,” drones for over a minute until LaValle’s voice serenades with the ominous lines, “Moonlight fades from my sight/sunshine blinds my eyes / Nightmares run through my mind/sunlight—I’m still here.”
This is an incredible closing track, not only for it truly giving the sense of finality for the album, but because the lyrical structures. It’s important to go back to the earlier point about LaValle’s vocal restraint. This final track is incredibly important because for only the third time on the album, we are hearing LaValle speak and it isn’t until this final track that we are finally hearing the fullness of the group’s intent with the album.
The repeated lines, “Between waves, I take my breath,” echo a sense of drowning, and having to fight for your life—but the lines are expertly juxtaposed with LaValle seemingly calm and dry delivery because the urgency of the lines are not met with urgency in his voice. Yet, the lines are met with the triumphant sound of trumpets, which comes off reassuring instead of exasperating. And if there’s one reason to listen to The Album Leaf, it’s for some reassurance, comfort, and escape from the trivial nature of life.
There is a deluxe vinyl edition of the album, which contains four bonus tracks and 5 remixes from the likes of Daedelus, Dntel, and Lorna Dune. This deluxe edition is available for streaming on Spotify. It is also available on CD and on vinyl with an alternate red album cover and a beautiful blue and silver merge pressing via Relapse Records. So if you feel like you enjoyed these eight tracks, know that there is much more to this wonderful return to form for The Album Leaf.
And if you have the hankering to check out this gloriousness live, check out Jimmy and the gang this Sunday, September 17, at the Sinclair in Cambridge. I’ll be there hanging out!