The Album Leaf Into the Blue Again

[Sub Pop; 2006]

Styles: post-rock, experimental, instrumental rock, ambient
Others: Sigur Ros, Brian Eno, Múm

There's something to be said for peace, serenity, and level-headedness in music. While oftentimes I'm looking for something to charge me up or at least get my head bobbing, a soothing soundscape can be the right prescription in times of tension and stress. Yet, there also needs to be an element compelling me to listen beyond those first couple relaxing minutes. The Album Leaf is a project (steered by mastermind Jimmy LaValle) that has repeatedly shown the ability to make such music, and while it may not draw them legions of devout fans, that just makes their efforts all the more noble.

Into the Blue Again offers decent ambient pop with a lot of great textural and timbral shifts flowing throughout its duration, giving a discerning listener plenty of points of interest along the way. The gently rising opener "The Light" uses synth swells and drones, sweet organ notes, and lullaby strings to create a delicate, ethereal mix. Tracks like "See in You" include subtly glitchy electronic percussion to give a detached air to the proceedings, and it is in this detachment that the album falters. In its many moments offering something warm and comfortable, Into the Blue Again might have been able to gain the status of one of those albums that could settle restless nerves, but this undercurrent of coldness counteracts this idea, leaving some tracks unsatisfying, passable rather than pleasing.

This is manifest most obviously on the few tracks where LaValle's vocals are featured, particularly "Always for You" and "Writings on the Wall." The melodies are engaging enough, but his tone of voice makes it seem like it was a real chore to show up to the studio on those days. I'm glad that he's given us some salve for our psychic turmoil, but I just wish he could make it a little more personable at times. That's the kind of therapy that I'd show up for on a weekly basis.

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