Monday, October 20, 2008

Into the Blue Again - The Album Leaf (Autumn Records 2008)

Into the Blue Again

The Album Leaf
Subpop Records.

SCQ Rating: 72%

SCQ has a rather routine history of dealing with Album Leaf records; we politely blast them for failing to challenge us with anything semi-testing, than admit that it’s pretty and give it a gracious rating. Sure, Jimmy Lavalle isn’t out to reinvent the wheel – some might argue that he’s reshaped that same wheel several times over – but even so, titling your record Into the Blue Again is just an asshole move. Look Jimmy: we all understand that your previous outing, In a Safe Place, was your breakthrough; a collection of post-rock gems electronically refined and packaged in lovely blue artwork. Writing another album of similar melodies under the same formula (and with THAT title) should warrant the Album Leaf a failing grade in the creativity department. Yet here I go repeating history.

This is a solid follow-up, like-minded in tone and production but separate in its straight-forward approach to songwriting. Whereas In a Safe Place is famously noted for featuring the contribution of several Sigur Ros, Mum, Black Heart Procession and Amiina members, Into the Blue Again is a personal statement; a potential knee-jerk reaction to the attention gathered by such a communal crowd that finds Lavalle in charge of most instruments and production. He proves entirely capable of manning the boards alone, whether performing familiar rock-elegies like ‘Shine’ or attempting more modern-classical compositions with ‘Wishful Thinking’. Lavalle’s best work is still bordering on the indie-electronic side, which bolstered by Tel Aviv’s beats, results in the metropolitan rush of ‘Red Eye’ and the dew-sweet, emotional landscapes of ‘Broken Arrow’.

The downside to Lavalle going (almost) alone is that the variety once offered by his hired help is absent here, meaning we get an over-saturation of predictable Lavalle melodies and fewer sonic surprises. What has plagued my Album Leaf reviews in the past is ever-present here; that Into the Blue Again is beyond playing it safe. It’s lovely when it reaches that extra mile to be just that, but plain sterile the rest of the time. If this faceless quality to Album Leaf’s music has one universal benefit, it’s that you can contextualize it any way you see fit, and that said, I’ve spent a good deal of time with this record as contemplative background music. It’s an album worth revisiting during times of unrest but I’m stubborn in my belief that Lavalle is capable of an ambition greater than mere musak.

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