It takes a true virtuoso to make a handful of chord changes sound like a complex musical arrangement. In fall fashion, the aesthetic is artfully achieved with layers of clothing. In the Album Leaf's case, it is layers of piano, organ, strings and gently galloping beats.
Jimmy LaValle (Tristeza, The Locust, Black Heart Procession) has been playing music since he was 4 years old and writing, recording and performing as the Album Leaf since 1999. Into the Blue Again, his latest collection of galactic folk rock, widens the breadth of what Album Leaf fans have come to expect, without taking any risky attempts to redefine itself. Songs still build simply, a repetitious assembly of descending chords that slowly evolve into triumphant refrain.
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Unfortunately, album opener "The Light" is less a booming kick-off than it is a shanked punt: a ginger keyboard melody slowly emerges from a swelling synth wave before spiraling off into a spacey mist of modulation. The rest of the record holds together a little better. Songs such as "See in You" and "Into the Sea" follow the standard (yet satisfying) Album Leaf formula as guitar and organ melodies slowly revolve around each other before building to a crescendo against a rhythm section made up of either electronic crackles or live drums or both. But while previous albums were composed mainly of instrumentals and borderline minimalist electronica, Into the Blue Again shows LaValle coming out of his lyrical shell. Tracks that feature his modest vocal talents, such as "Always for You," "Writing on the Wall" and "Wherever I Go," are structured more like conventional pop songs, with a more defined verse, chorus and a bridge. Still, these songs fit comfortably in LaValle's canon of work. Into the Blue Again is the Album Leaf doing what it does best, sonically progressing without straying too far from form.