Music Reviews
A Chronicle Of Storytellers

The Album Leaf A Chronicle Of Storytellers

(Sub Pop) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

It must be tricky for Jimmy LaValle to know where to go as he sits down to write. After the critical and commercial success of In a Safe Place defined his position in the hearts and minds of many, and more importantly helped make the group synonymous with their gentle sound, it is a noticeable disappointment that each new record he produces becomes merely a sequel to its most famous predecessor.  The lolloping, mid-tempo drums, the twinkling stripped down melodies, the simple orchestrations and Jimmy's precious, faltering vocals are all present and correct. This is the fifth record he has put out under the name and to be honest Jimmy, as a music fan I'm simply looking for something more. This album bores and soothes in equal measure. Rarely does it inspire, rarely does it ignite any real kind of emotional fire, and for me that's where it fails.

However many crystalline moments of beauty their records contain (and of course there are some to be found here), for me there remains a cloying sense of the overtly melodramatic, of uninventive repetition that it is hard to ignore. When you've spent a decade producing a set of albums where any of the songs could just about fit on any of the records, its hard to see beyond the general identity of the band and embrace their records as individual pieces on their own merit. That is why this album has been filed by my head, and sadly, by my heart as just another Album Leaf record. If you thought they were coasting on 2007's patchy Into The Blue, here any element of surprise, of experimentation, of musical exploration even, seems completely lacking. It’s all starting to feel a little too comfortable, a little too coffee table. LaValle appears to have been confined by his earlier success into not veering out of his comfort zone. This could quite easily have been just a stripped-down instrumental piano record and I would not only have enjoyed it much more, but respected him more as a musician for trying something different. Equally, he could have pushed towards the heavier end of the spectrum, or brought their subtle use of electronics further to the fore. The point being, he hasn't, he doesn’t, and seemingly never will.

Take There Is a Wind. This track can be summed up by imagining the aforementioned stylistics and quite frankly, it bored me. If it wasn't the umpteenth time I've heard a song in this vein on an Album Leaf record things might be different but as it is my ears simply don't care that much any more. It was never easy to be fully convinced by his multi-tracked, monotone vocals and yet there are always moments where it all seems to fall into place. The soaring backing vocals on the triumphant Falling From the Sun lift the track higher than any other on the record but predictably, it wouldn't be out of place on In A Safe Place and we are back in 2004 again. We Are pushes the tempo up a notch and the song's far-away vocal and simple chiming melody is pleasant enough but ultimately fails to satisfy. "We find ourselves here again.." sings Jimmy. I know what he means.

The album is fittingly, almost rounded out by the Almost There, another floating, lilting lullaby that passes you by without so much as stroking your cheek. Jimmy seems to be singing from high above the band, the music, disconnected and disheartened. "We're almost there, almost there again..." he manages to wail. Where is that, I wonder? At the end of another distinctly average sound-alike record perhaps? Yes, I think that must be it.

I hope Jimmy can make another great record in his lifetime, but when you constantly plough the same patch of land for years, over and over again, don't be surprised when your plants don't grow and blossom as they once did.