Friday, March 26, 2010

A Chorus Of Storytellers - The Album Leaf

A Chorus of Storytellers

The Album Leaf
Subpop Records.

SCQ Rating: 73%

I suppose I had this coming. With each previous Album Leaf review, I’ve nit-picked a shortlist of ways Jimmy Lavalle appeared content to continue churning out pretty and harmless electronic-tinged post-rock and, with Into the Blue Again, the San Diego-based songwriter seemed positively trapped by his own careful template. A wistful melody that elegantly curls itself, some tasteful live drums, a prominent use of violin and a boatload of electronic keys; that’s the Album Leaf stencil, ever-beautiful but increasingly streamlined from his younger days. If Lavalle planned to continue a career of this moniker, something had to give, and A Chorus Of Storytellers provides just that breeze to freshen Album Leaf’s stagnant vibe: a live band.

Now determining what Lavalle’s new entourage of musicians means, beyond a press-angle, is harder to decipher. Fellas like Matt Resovich and Drew Andrews have played on previous albums to lesser acclaim, while a track aptly named ‘Standstill’ purports the same template we’ve known and submitted to for the past decade, only this time less indebted to electronica. While it sounds redundant to claim The Album Leaf’s growth to a five-piece succeeds in making the project sound less isolated, that’s precisely what A Chorus of Storytellers accomplishes – a fully organic band playing to Jimmy Lavalle’s familiar fetters. After a surprisingly slow start, ‘There Is a Wind’ opens the record with a poignant highlight of majestic strings and deft percussion. It also showcases Lavalle’s improved vocals, which serviceably upgrade the forward-moving ‘We Are’ and the downhill side of the slope on ‘Almost There’. Vocal tracks aside, it wouldn’t be a promising addition to the Album Leaf canon without including a few slow-burners to contend with classics ‘Twentytwofourteen’ or ‘Into the Sea’. Earning their spot amid such peaks is ‘Until the Last’, an uplifting, orchestrated swoon of the Icelandic variety, and ‘Summer Fog’, which approaches the soundscapes of yesterday with a surprising post-classical touch. All that said, it should come as no surprise to read that A Chorus Of Storytellers’ songwriting quality shows no obvious boosts or declines from previous efforts, but the aesthetic direction alone will surely divide listeners. An odd laptop beat infrequently rises above the live-drums, on the crisp loop underscoring ‘Within Dreams’ or as the lazy breakbeat that trips up ‘Falling From the Sun’, but The Album Leaf’s electronic profile has diluted to the point of matching radio-rock bands like Incubus, who toss a peripheral scratch or beat in merely to stylize another genre.

On one hand, A Chorus of Storytellers and the Phase Two (or is that The Album Leaf 2.0?) it ushers in can be interpreted as a coming-out party for Lavalle’s long-celebrated introversion. These songs pound and swell with a human pulse and, while they parade the same melodic avenues as records’ past, one can feel a veil that once shrouded The Album Leaf being lifted. Of course, the other side of this outlook is that Lavalle badly needs that electronic veil and by discarding it, he’s losing the provocative details that forgave his occasional schmaltz. Even if I side with the latter group, a split decision with regards to Album Leaf’s die-hard, emblem-tattooed following is always welcome, not to mention a sign that The Album Leaf have at least a few surprises up their sleeve.

1 comment:

B. said...

Hey. My cousin Shane told me about your blog. I dig it. I actually just started a blog of my own ( Haven't heard the new Album Leaf yet, I liked all their other records so I'll have to give it a listen.